Doomsday and Doing It Right

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Home Improvement Tips

So I’m watching This Old House. It looked pretty new but I apologize for not knowing the exact episode. And I only caught it half-way through–but that didn’t diminish what a good reminder the show provided me, notably (1) that it is surprisingly easy to build stuff all-the-way-wrong and still have it stand up longer than it should and (2) what an unqualified tragedy-in-waiting some structures actually are. Here’s what I mean…

Norm, Tom, and Kevin were demolishing a two-story porch set on the back of a house. They of course started at the top and stripped down. On the upper deck framing it became clear as they exposed armies of carpenter ants and CDX plywood (the ply- was just this side of bark mulch) that the porch was not built properly in the first place. It was hard to tell from TV but the lumber looked like SPF (not suitable for to-the-weather framing) and that water could pool in places hastening its demise. Yet, there it was.

Once they stripped the upper framing they went below and got to work on the steel Lally columns holding up the floor joists. With Tom at one end and Kevin at the other they used 2-by rams to bash out the supporting posts. As one came out, the porch framing just hung there. The only thing holding it place was habit, but, again, there it was almost mockingly.

As it eventually thundered to the ground where it belonged it occurred to me that whomever built that porch may feel a twinge of pride, albeit horribly misplaced: “Look how long it took them to rip the porch down…even with one vertical support it stood there a while…” Or, worse, someone taking on their own project taking the decision to under-build something because…”ahhh that’s good enough; I seen worse!”

But the real reality is far more important. First, we can tell you from the been-there-done-that perspective that the porch the guys ripped off practically threw itself into the dumpster it was in such bad shape. And it shows me that some DIY bravado–while admirable and empowering in so many regards–can be dangerous and deadly.

That porch looked like it was one unwitting wedding reception or keg party away from dropping its live load of dancers or grandparents into a pile of broken bones and bodies. It might have been 10 more parties, but that doomsday was coming–and it does happen. And people do die.

So, I tell that cautionary tale to make this point to brave DIYers: Butch-up pull permits. Get your work checked.

If you’re building something or doing your own wiring or plumbing I’m all about can-do spirit (we need fewer people digitizing themselves and more people taking their lawn mowers apart to see how they work!) but pull permits. Get the work inspected. Cover you butt. And if it’s not for you, then let it be for the people you live with or who live there after you. Leaving a time bomb ticking just isn’t cool, even if you think you are…know what I mean?

That way, when you’re sitting in your arm chair all those days from now and someone opens up your project they’ll find it done properly and woven into the fabric of the house with the integrity and craftsmanship doing the right thing always deserves.