April 3, 2007

Renovating Old Houses – Review

renovating_old_houses.jpgIf you’ve ever owned an old house or even known someone who has, you know that the effort involved in keeping them going is huge. The process of fixing one thing usually leads to fixing something else and who even knows where to start when everything needs fixing in the first place? It's enough to make you jealous of Sisyphus and his boulder; at least he knew what was coming at the end of each day.

But old houses are filled with a personality and a feel that you simply can’t get with a new home and, for some, those characteristics far out-weigh the time and effort needed to keep these old warhorses afloat. But, there’s also no doubt that the process can be intimidating and, from time to time, overwhelming, even to the experienced builder. What should you tackle first? How will fixing this problem affect that other problem later on? Is that sagging old roof going to fall in on me while I’m sleeping? All these questions need answers, and thank the Lord for George Nash and his book, Renovating Old Houses, because he has all the answers.

Renovating Old Houses is a virtual encyclopedia of what can go wrong with an old house and what to do about it. It is filled with a tremendous amount of information, detailed drawings and some incredible pictures of the most run-down, dilapidated, beat up old houses you’ve ever seen. If nothing else, these photos are likely to make you not feel so bad about your own situation.

The book starts with a comprehensive chapter on examining an old house outside and in; what problems to look for, how to make a checklist of what you’ve found, and how to start thinking about the money involved in fixing it up. Then Nash spends some time dealing with how to prioritize the problems and how to put things in perspective, going as far as to give a seasonal chart associating certain renovations with certain times of the year.

With the planning out of the way, Nash gets into the meat of the book: how to actually deal with the problems. The chapters are nicely divided into systems; foundations, electrical, plumbing, roof, and so on. This makes for easily digestible information as well as making the material easily referenced. If, in six months, you’re looking for some specific bit of information, the format of this book helps you find it fast.

Just about everything is covered in these chapters, from the basics of a plumbing system, to how to fix a sagging floor joist, to how to design an electrical circuit. We can’t stress enough how much information is in the book; big problems, small problems, things that will be problems in nine months. Really, everything.

The book is written in a very personal and friendly way. Nash has a conversational feel to his writing and intersperses his building knowledge with little bits and stories from his own personal experience. This adds a very human element to the book not found in most other how-to books. There is even a section titled, How to Rebuild and Stay Sane, where Nash discusses the psychological pressures, particularly on couples, that arise during the renovation process.

"Remember that the house is a means, not the end. There are times when you should put the hammer down, say “to hell with it” and go out to dinner. Listen to your partner. Keep your sense of humor well oiled. Listen to yourself, know when you need to stop. And stop. Do not ignore this advice. There is nothing sadder than a house that has devoured the souls of its people, or than the emptiness of waking up at night and seeing a stranger lying beside you.”

While some of the problems detailed in this book are of an extreme nature and are usually found only in very old houses (how to buttress a stone foundation wall), most of the issues are of a universal nature. Your house doesn’t need to have been a integral part of the American Revolution for this book to be helpful. Renovating Old Houses is essential for any homeowner who is interested in the life of their house and wants to know more about its upkeep; from someone who is gutting a 200 year old colonial, to someone who tinkers around with the plumbing from time to time.

At Amazon.com

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at April 3, 2007 5:26 AM

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