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Friday, December 28, 2007

The Kvetching Continues



Well, I promised you subtext today, and by golly you're going to get it.

I'm still getting a kick out of this:

"That charming 1920s three-bedroom craftsman wasn't built to accommodate all these new devices, much less modernized subsystems like updated electrical, solar power, or flexible plastic plumbing. Which is one reason Americans have come to prefer new homes to pre-owned ones."

Go ahead. Ask a sane person: "Would you like a charming 1920s three bedroom craftsman?" Yeah, people hate charming, I've noticed. It's right up there with free money and slender women with large bra sizes and tall, muscular men among things people hate. Free beer's a non-starter too, I hear.

Now let's look at the three things he says old houses can't accomodate:
-Updated electrical.
Huh? To update the electrical in most older homes, it's the service that gets changed from a 50 or maybe even 100 amp service panel to maybe 200 amps, if you have airconditioning needs or something. All of that happens between the pole and the service panel. 99% of that is outside. The other 1% is a new service panel in your utility room or basement or garage. It wouldn't matter if your house is 500 years old or 500 minutes old. And is it convenience outlets that are in short supply? Well, if the bill for an electrician to install that -- which is the first thing you learn to do when you're an apprentice besides buying coffee for everybody -- is too daunting, you need to buy a fainting couch and some candles. And if you mean "electronic" instead of electrical, a Cat 5 wire is about as complicated as telephone jack.
-Solar Power
Double huh? Where were you planning on installing those solar panels, HouseLust Dude? In the living room in lieu of a Persian carpet? It goes on the roof, and is basically never installed as original equipment on any house. Strike two.
-Flexible Plastic Plumbing
We're way past "Huh? and into WTF? territory here. An old house can't accomodate flexible plastic plumbing? Flexible plastic plumbing was invented for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of installation into existing housing. If you have to replace old copper plumbing (which is superior in most regards, by the way) you can snake plastic plumbing through the walls without disturbing existing walls or ceilings. And to hook up new plastic plumbing to any existing copper pipe all you need is a spade fitting sweated to the the existing pipe and off you go.

I'm back to considering hanging myself on the shower curtain rod reading this stuff. Let's move on to the subtext.

"And once the paint dries inside a new Spanish colonial-style McMansion, running additional pipes, conduits, or wires necessary for an upgrade creates an ungodly mess — and a shocking bill. "It can be done, but you really need to want it," says Kermit Baker, a Harvard economist who studies the remodeling market."

We'll skip right over the word that's become a sort of hood ornament on the snob's lexicon-Prius for someone else's house: McMansion. We're sniffing around the real reason people want a new house: The old one's too small. They want and can afford a bigger house which doesn't have a leaky roof. It has nothing to do with the author's weird ideas about why people do things. The author hates that idea so he uses a pejorative to describe it. Look at who he goes to to get his advice on remodeling: A Harvard economist. Watch as the light dawns over two Marbleheads. Skilled labor is expensive. Who knew?

"A shocking bill."

I can see these two clutching their pearls, horrified that unlike all the illegal immigrants they have cooking their meals, painting their house, mowing their lawn, and maybe wiping their children's bottoms, an electrician and a plumber and a general contractor must be licensed by the state of Massachusetts where they live, and they're legit, and insured, and can earn a decent wage -- and under no circumstances do these champions of the little guy want to write them a check for doing something they themselves don't understand. They make their living dispensing information with an eyedropper, and charging like it was a firehose. It's anathema to them to pay anybody anything for hidden information -- which normal people just shrug and call "expertise" and write a check for.

I've built and remodeled hundreds of houses and talked to thousands of people about it. And there really are only two kinds of people in this world. People who like to buy things, and people who like to have people make things for them.

The first group constantly talk about "evil corporations" but will never work in any setting or purchase any item which does not come from the corporate setting. I know the Harvard guy thinks Harvard is a sort of intellectual hot-dog stand, but it's one of the most rapacious entities you could name. Its endowment dwarfs the entire budget of the state it resides in. And I noticed the author ain't hardly self-publishing. The non-corporatism is of the "not in front of the servants" variety. When it's time to write a check for the $60.00 an hour to the self-employed electrician to put in a convenience plug, don't the arms get short? And you with those pockets so deep. And you'll have to talk to the ruffians when they come over in a truck, and they haven't even read Naomi Wolf's latest book!

You can buy a great big flat-screen for your house made in a factory in Korea for $750.00 and hang it on the wall. It is a tremendous value, after all. But to the thing-based mind, shelling out any additional funds -- egad! to a person -- to wire a convenience outlet for it and install a dimmer switch in the room it's in is like taking money outside and burning it.

I was always careful to put every bill to the pious wealthy in the form of a flat number. Any reference to the amount of time or the wages involved would never be featured. If you want this - it cost that. Period.

Those people in those McMansions? They were always nice. They lived as decently as they could afford, which is very decently indeed compared to my Kennedy-Johnson-age youth, it's true. They aren't made of money, and often do things themselves to save some, or just for the love of their home, which is, after all, an expression of their most profound ideas about life, family, and citizenship. And they were always glad to find anyone competent to help them realize their dreams for home and hearth, even if they are a tad ham-handed, and gladly paid those contractors to help them.

How dare the architects roaming the earth when Warren G. Harding was president not know that you wouldn't be able to decide where to plug in your iMac from week to week. Something must be done!

I know all about you, Mr. HouseLust and your merry band of Harvard economists. You tell people someone should make furniture here in Massachusetts. Then you shop at IKEA.

5 comments:

Rich said...

Maybe it's appropriate to find the bill "shocking". After all, they're using sub-standard materials. The article's author specifically mentions "CAT-5" wiring, not "CAT-6". Which means your gigabit Apple iWhatever is not going to be running at full speed, is it?

Would you want to put 15 amps through a 12 gauge wire?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

In our last 10 years of home-improvement, we've adopted the motto, "Don't be cheap!" We've added $20 here or $100 there in upgraded appliances and lots more in upgraded bathrooms, decks and finished basements. Consequently, we're not so thrilled at the idea of the new big house that has contractor grade everything.

People who like to buy things, and people who like to have people make things for them.

I guess I'm both.

Harry said...

Simply your funniest post in months, Sip. Not to denigrate your others.

Somewhere in Cambridge, a bulls-eye is missing.

Pogo said...

I saw that claim in the paper, and wondered how it could be true when it seemed to be so apparently false.

But me being only an intermittent fixer-of-things I thought I'd check Sip on this. Damned good answer, too.

SippicanCottage said...

Pogo- Long time no see. Proud to be your second opinion go-to guy for smashing your thumb.

What you are, Mrs. Adams, is a peach.

Hi Harry!

Hi Rich! 12 gauge wire is good for 20 amps. 12 is bigger than 14. 14 or bigger is specified for 15 amps. Your point stands.