I have an old house. Those of you forty-five and over will find this disconcerting as your age is equal to or greater than that of my old house. It’s disconcerting for me because the house was still in its infancy when I was born. As I’m currently trying to whip it into shape to sell or rent it out, I’m discovering the downside. We didn’t buy a newer house because I was told they were popping them up so fast in the area and taking short-cuts that sometimes ended in tragedy–like burying construction debris in the backyard so that it formed a ticking time-bomb for a sinkhole to swallow up unsuspecting children at inopportune moments–as opposed to when you want them to be swallowed whole by the Earth.
Given that the life expectancy of a house–theoretically–is as long or longer than a person, what makes my house old? It’s the fact that half the time I have to get custom replacement parts because “they just don’t do it like that anymore.”
Our built-in wall oven is tiny by today’s standards. People buying houses in the late 60’s were often children of the Great Depression. They, therefore, didn’t know that a respectable house had to have an oven big enough to prepare Thanksgiving turkey and all the accouterments for the Second Infantry Division. This creates an intriguing problem. If I want an oven that will fit our cut-out, we have to pay $2,500 because they are only made by German companies with names like “Gruber & Kafarfignugen” for tiny apartments in Amsterdam or Munich–and thus have to be sailed over special order. Or I can buy a new style wall oven for $800, but then I have to pay the other $1,700 to a carpenter to modify our cabinets.
They just brought two brand-spanking new exterior doors to my house yesterday that I had bought the day before. Then they took them away because: a.) they were the wrong size (somewhere along the line someone decided that four of the inches of width were extraneous, but we needed one extra inch of height.) I understand the height thing, Americans have been getting taller in the post-War period. However, Americans have also been getting fatter; so why are the doors getting narrower?) b.) they have no idea how to install the door frames because the construction methods were different 45 years ago, and they only know how to replace doors on new homes. QUESTION: “Why are people replacing doors on new houses so much more than on old houses that the company doesn’t even think to consider one might have an older house?”
It’s true, in some cases the old ways were crazy. We have two fluorescent light fixtures in the kitchen, one was original and one is newer. The old one was designed to never be taken down by an amateur–I think the electrician’s union was in cahoots with the lighting manufacturer’s union, because the design was truly crazy and not the least bit customer friendly. The new one could safely be put up and taken down by a bright five-year old. However, the downside of this all this user-friendliness is that the “professionals” often don’t seem to know more than we do about any situation that is the least bit out of the ordinary because they are used to using the same customer-friendly products.
One thing has gone smoothly so far, and that’s the electrical bit. At least my house was born of the circuit-breaker era. I’ll try to end on that up-beat note. I could use it.