Misadventures in Home Improvement & Lessons Learned

Stained glass door design detail

Detail of my stained glass design for the entry door.

You know how news that company’s coming can set off a panic attack? In my case, a good few years of benign neglect and deferred maintenance have resulted in a house with peeling paint and a disintegrating overhang like some condemned dwelling.

It has been exactly 10 years since my brother’s last visit so it seemed like an opportune moment to do some sorely needed home improvements. The project grew to include window replacement, termite control, exterior painting; furniture, lighting and window treatment upgrades; as well as art and stained glass commissions. It was a chain reaction that, once set in motion, took on a life of its own. After almost 3 months of constant turmoil, the end is finally in sight. Here are some valuable lessons learned.

Lesson #1 – Heed advice of the pros

We started innocuously enough with the demo of the decrepit overhang by our front door. Since we planned to repaint the house, we decided to be proactive and scheduled a termite inspection beforehand.  Though there was some termite activity reported on the fascia boards over the back deck, it was the first sign of termite activity in the 24 years we owned the house. In a fateful bout of wishful thinking, I clung to the hope that it was only a superficial infestation, and that removal of the offending boards would either rid us of the termites, or allow the fascia headers to be treated more effectively. When I didn’t see any termites in the boards that were taken down, I decided to cancel the treatment, but eventually agreed to a re-inspection whereby the inspector promptly showed me the error of my ways. By then my one poor decision had wreaked havoc on the already tight renovation schedule.

In the process of taking out the fascia boards, the flashing was totally destroyed.  Since there was no time to find the original parts, we had to make do with some makeshift replacement concocted by our handyman. Then the termite company refused to treat the boards that were taken down for ‘liability reasons’ and we ended up having to replace all the fascia.

If I had just done what the inspector recommended, the process would have been much smoother and less wasteful: if nothing else, my redwood fascia and flashing would still be intact…

Lesson #2 – The Mailman does not always deliver

I opted to hire a quality paint company and specify a premium paint as I wanted to stave off repainting the house for as long as possible. The work started auspiciously enough with my light fixtures meticulously wrapped and windows protected.  But then my husband overheard the company owner telling his journeyman some basic paint handling technique. Next thing I knew, my windows, boiler room and Dutch doors were all thoroughly painted shut. Turned out the company’s recent hire with purportedly 30 years experience failed to exhibit any of that on the job. So despite my best efforts, I was still left with patched up windows and doors that fared not much better than if I used a spray-and-pray paint company.

Lesson #3 – Murphy’s alive and well

Then came the front door… Having designed stained glass windows and doors for clients, I finally decided to create a stained glass piece for my own entry. A pair of 20″ back-to-back custom forged iron pulls and a low profile deadbolt helped finish out the front door nicely. This house is old enough to be classified as an ‘antique’ by some standards, and the door opening is different from current standards. A custom door can take weeks and given my deadline, there is little margin for error. Since doors can be cut down to fit smaller openings and my handyman has a woodworking background, I thought we can save time and energy by going that route.  Of course my front entry is neither plumb nor square, and the opening is too small in both height and width for a standard door.

After some intense chiseling that would have done a beaver proud, the door got installed with all the requisite hardware. Life was good till my glass artist came to install the stained glass. He took one look and pronounced the door was hung with the interior side facing out: entry doors intended to receive glazing have 2 sides, and the glass is always installed with glazing stops from inside the house to minimize weather exposure.

There was a 50/50 chance my handyman could have picked the right side, but of course no such luck. Due to schedule constraints, we picked the most expedient solution: our handyman chiseled new hinge cutouts on the opposite edge so the door can be hung correctly. Wood shavings were piling high on my floor and beaver was very happy…

My painter was aghast at the state of the door (& frame) but was able to recommend a contractor to fix the disaster (refer to Lesson #1). Suffice to say, $1,000 dollars later my door opening was enlarged and I am the proud owner of a spanking new 36″ mortised prehung door with all the hardware reinstalled. Now all I need is to get the door painted and the stained glass transferred from my old-new door – hopefully in one piece!


Moral of the story – after my recent experience, I’ve come to see that not knowing one’s limits and doing whatever is expedient without understanding the full ramifications can lead to unintended consequences and create a recipe for disaster.