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By Staff | Sep 2, 2011

All you hear these days is home improvement this and home improvement that. Like most middle-aged guys, I’m not so much concerned about improvement as I am about maintenance.

For instance, early this spring I found a shingle on the ground. It was obviously a slothful shingle, openly shirking its duty. It lay there on the grass as if to say “It’s a fine lawn you have here! Too bad I’m killing this nice little patch of sod.”

Not about to take any guff from a lazy, good-for-nothing shingle, I gruffly tossed it into the garbage. I felt vindicated until it dawned that if one shingle were behaving so, there might be others.

My hunch was correct: several other shingles had gone AWOL, and more were thinking about following suit. It was clearly time for a new roof.

Installing shingles isn’t rocket science. You simply follow one rule, namely, start at the bottom and work your way up. The part that gave me pause was the “up” part, as in, “how the heck am I going to get all those new shingles up there?”

Another worry had to do with whether or not the weather would hold once the old shingles were removed. Given my luck, I would no sooner get the roof stripped than it would start to rain at a rate that would cause animals to pair up.

My wife talked me into hiring a professional roofer. His crew did an amazing job amazingly fast, completing in one day a task that would have taken me a month. In all fairness, though, they had the advantage of a spiffy elevator thingamabob to hoist the new shingles up to the rooftop.

I inspected their work and was very pleased. However, I was very displeased with the condition of my chimney.

Many years ago the chimney cap rusted off. I replaced it with an el-cheapo cap that had zero overhang. Over the years, rain and combustion byproducts eroded the chimney. It looked as if someone had used an ax to split the topmost concrete block.

Fixing such a thing isn’t rocket science. After all, it’s simply a matter of mixing some mortar and playing cake decorator.

I thought I should first clean things with a wire brush. The initial brush stroke removed an entire corner of the top block. This wasn’t a good sign; it would be like brushing your teeth and spitting out a fistful of molars.

Panicked, I yanked off the rest of the block. I then sprinted to the home improvement center to get a replacement block and other supplies.

When I purchased the new concrete block, it weighed perhaps 50 pounds. By the time I had grunted that same block to the rooftop, it had somehow gained weight, tipping the scales at two tons.

The new block was eventually plastered in place. Next came forming a new top for the block, essentially a hemisphere of mortar to marry the square block to the round flue.

Not that anyone will ever see it, but I think my mortar cap looks quite spiffy. All those years of playing with my mashed potatoes finally paid off.

Seeing the example set by the shingles, another part of the house soon began to shirk its duty. Our front door was supposed to be our bouncer, keeping any undesirable rain out. All rain is undesirable, a basic fact the door somehow forgot.

When a door begins to sneer at its duties you have little choice other than to replace it. Installing a new door ain’t rocket science; after all, it’s simply a matter of flopping out the old one and popping in the new.

Or so went the best-laid plans. Doors are all standard sized, unless they aren’t. Screw heads aren’t supposed to strip, and why do nail heads always pull through what appears to be perfectly sound wood?

A small and simple project quickly became large and complex. I made so may trips to the home improvement center, the entire staff – more than 50 people – began to call me by my first name. And to top it off, a quantity of spray foam sealant somehow got into my hair. It appears I’ll have a Woody Woodpecker ‘do for the next several weeks.

During one of my frantic forays to the home improvement center, I bumped into my brother-in-law Barry. He’s also a do-it-yourself homeowner, a fact made painfully obvious by the stuff in his cart and the frantic look on his face.

We chatted a bit about home improvement projects and how the mistake gremlin always leaves his mark. As we parted, I told Barry that I hoped things improved for him.

“The heck with improving,” he replied, “I just want to maintain.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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