DIY Awry

A handyman is coming to my house next week and I’m already dreading it.

My dread has nothing to do with handymen in general or this guy in particular. Quite the opposite, really. I like it when skilled craftspeople come to my house to de-crapify a small part of it.

My dread stems from what happens once the craftsman starts working. It always goes a little something like this:

  1. I offer Mr. Craftsman a bottle of water and lead him to the spot I want fixed or renovated.
  2. “No problem,” Mr. Craftsman says.
  3. I tell Mr. Craftsman that I will be working in my office upstairs. “If you need me for anything,” I say, “just give me a shout.”
  4. “No problem,” Mr. Craftsman says.
  5. I go upstairs to work in my office.
  6. About ten minutes later, I hear a furtive call from downstairs. “Mr. Allegra…?”
  7. “Yes,” I reply.
  8. “There’s a problem,” Mr. Craftsman says.

Mr. Craftsman then shows me his horrible discovery: a once hidden, jerry-rigged something that’s stupid and dangerous—and expensive to fix.

My house has had only one previous owner. For the purposes of privacy, I’ll give this owner a pseudonym: Mr. Derp.

Mr. Derp was a carpenter. He built houses. At the end of each workday, he took leftover supplies from the job site and used them to build his own house. My house.

When I first heard that Mr. Derp—an honest-to-goodness carpenter—built his own house, I was elated. After all, if I was a carpenter, and I built my own house, I would make sure it was the best dang house ever.

But Mr. Derp didn’t think like me.

Mr. Derp had more of a “that’s good enough” mentality.

Mr. Derp had a “that’s not up to code, but I don’t care” attitude.

Mr. Derp also had a “yes, there’s a hole in the sewer line, but I’ll just plug it with a wine cork because, hey, what’s the worst that could happen?” vibe. (For the record, I witnessed the worst that could happen. It is literally the worst thing that could ever happen.)

The wine cork incident was just the tip of the iceberg, of course. A man who searches for plumbing supplies in a liquor cabinet is capable of anything.

Mr. Derp was especially creative with electrical work. He wired the basement with Christmas lights. He wired the bathroom with a spliced cord from a table lamp. He also wrapped these wires in aluminum foil. “Why,” you ask? That’s the same question I’ve been asking myself for the past 16 years.

Oh, dear.  My home improvement memories are depressing me.

But here’s one more anecdote: Last year I hired a contractor to rebuild my cracked and crumbling front porch. The contractor found the task simple and explained exactly what he planned to do. He would jackhammer the old porch away down to the foundation and then build a new one. The job would be done before the end of the day.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yup,” he replied. “No problem.”

Ten minutes later, the jackhammer fell silent. “Mr. Allegra? There’s a problem.”

I sighed and descended the stairs.

I then found out why my porch was cracked and crumbling. Mr. Derp built it on top of a slightly smaller porch. Mr. Derp built a porch on top of a slightly smaller porch because the slightly smaller porch was sinking into the ground. This porch was sinking into the ground because it had no foundation.

I guess Mr. Derp figured that if he built enough porches atop other porches the bottom-most porch would eventually hit bedrock.

In the end, building a proper porch on a proper foundation took three days and cost me twice as much as the initial porch-building estimate.

This is why I dread the arrival of the handyman. He’s only installing a new medicine cabinet and bathroom fan, but that means he’ll be peering into my walls and ceiling.

What might he find there? A water main constructed with Krazy Straws? A load-bearing wall framed with pizza boxes? The mutilated corpse of the township’s building inspector?

All I know for sure is that there will be a problem.


So! Do you have a home improvement horror story? Do tell!

66 Replies to “DIY Awry”

  1. My first house with my hubs was a home improvement project. It was a bit like the Winchester House. The Guy who built it used scraps of redwood from the mill he worked at. He would add on rooms as he had money and time (?). How else would there be an explanation for a window in the hall closet. My personal favorite was peeling off the hallway wallpaper. Fourteen layers later (I kid you not), I find the wall. Maybe the wallpaper was serving as insulation, because there was none, only termite nests, which arrived, no doubt, because there was no foundation. None. Our quaint cottage by the sea was deemed the Mildew Palace. Oh, the house came with the hubs. I couldn’t reject the one without rejecting the other. I became fairly adept in my home improvement skills. Fortunately, the hubs is a pretty handy handyman. But he he detests projects for the very reason you describe: nuttin is simple when it comes to a simple project. I feel your pain, Mike. May the favor of the “no problem” force be with you.

      1. Unbelievably we (I) hung in there for about 4 years. We turned it into a rental and moved. Never knew mildew before that place. Sheltered upbringing?

  2. Oh MY! Well I hope there are no surprises Mike!! We have friends in MI that bought a house previously owned by an electrician. You would have thought this guy would have done the same… made sure everything was done properly?? But NO! They have found one nightmare after another and always asked themselves “An electrician built this???” Wow! Good luck today! 😉

    1. Homeownership sometimes seems like one headache after another.

      Here’s another fun story! long before the house was put up for sale, Mr. Derp designed a home made electrified fence to protect his vegetable garden. This went about as well you can imagine; when it rained, the chain link fence around the property sprayed sparks as if it was the Fourth of July.

  3. Um…you could call me, Ms. Derp. I would totally use the wine bottle cork, Mike, and building a porch on top of a sinking porch? I would do that too… have done that! Ha ha. I usually end up having to do my home-improvement projects twice because I do them completely wrong the first time. And I hobble everything together with the materials on hand because Home Depot is a two-hour drive. Who wouldn’t? Thanks for the laugh. 🙂

      1. Fortunately we haven’t had sewer problems, and I’m not a welder, so pipes are beyond my skills for now. Probably a good thing. Now, crooked doors? I can do that every time. 🙂

  4. I live in a 60 year old house and just assume that when I call a contractor in that 1) The problem is bigger than I expect and 2) It will cost twice the original estimate. And my Mr. Derp where past owners of the house who must have thought they were great DIYers – I’ve replace most of their work.

  5. Ours was different scenario altogether. We were converting an unused upper floor of our business into an apartment . Big project. We had abestos in our ceilings. Then came the kitchen.
    The builder installed the rangehood and then hubby had the nerve to tell me I’m stuck with it as no way could he move it in since there’s a steel beam running across to hold up the concrete prefabbed walls.
    I was livid as it was hanging over the kitchen bench by about 5cm?
    So googled talked to a handyman friend . He told me they just have to bend the internal pipe around the beam. Problem solved . The frustrating thing was because I’m female my words are worth nothing.
    He didn’t want to do it as it costed two men and a day to take it back down and re-install it. That’s why. He took the easier option.
    Mind you it wasn’t the only problem we encountered.

    1. Such things are so frustrating. But good for you for sticking to your guns!

      It’s always better to pay a little more to get it done the way you want rather than get irritated every time you enter the room. (Because, speaking from experience, that irritation never goes away.)

      1. Uhuh it’s our forever home so I was very particular. Hubby was on the builder’s side and he was telling me the rangehood wouldn’t matter since I’m a shortie. I questioned him what about resell value? Aussies are talk people. They’d surely bump their heads when the cook? 😩

  6. Loved this. Especially when I read the part where there was a smaller porch under the existing porch. Laziness meets Mr. Fixit. My departed FIL was a “good enough” kind of DIY guy. Thankfully, my husband has higher standards that come close to mine. We have a handyman coming today to look at a patio door that needs to be replaced. The people who built our house were of not the brightest and best either. I have stories…
    I’m assuming you’ve either got too much money in this house to scrap it at this point, or there is some reason, you really want to live there, because I would tell you to sell and take another chance on the house lottery.

    1. Oh, I like the house, I just hate all the horrors I find in the walls.

      And I don’t plan to stay here foreve. After Alex graduates from high school (the schools are very good in my town) we’ll move to a place where land is cheap and taxes are low. Then I shall keep goats. (I bet you didn’t see that last part comin’, eh?)

      1. No. No I didn’t. But goats are good. Less lawn mowing, right? And I’ve been told they eat anything, even tin cans so there’s your recycling right there!
        Schools are important. It’s worth staying in the Money Pit for a good school.

  7. It sounds like your house was made for you to wrap your stories around. You will never run out of things to write and your house will become famous while being rebuilt one item at a time.
    Just trying to put a positive spin on it 😉

  8. We bought our house 22 years ago. My husband has replaced every door, only to find out that the original builder didn’t bother using standard size doors. So Bob had to build out or add to every single door frame. When we decided to replace the front door with something a bit more attractive he asked my daughter’s boyfriend if he would help him… He being a good boyfriend said “of course!” They started around 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday… once they took the door down and realized the pre-hung door we had bought to replace the door didn’t fit, it took them until 11:30 AT NIGHT to complete the job!! My daughter’s then boyfriend never grumbled or groused. Not even once (Bob did enough grumbling and grousing for the two of them!) I said to my daughter “He’s a keeper! He never once complained!” She rolled her eyes, and said “OH YES HE DID! JUST NOT TO YOU!!” I’m happy to say her then boyfriend has become my son-in-law!

      1. He wasn’t family yet…. He had to play his cards close to the vest… (and what respect am I actually due…) (never mind… no need to answer that) 🙂

      2. I know he wasn’t family yet; that’s what makes his grueling, unpaid 14-hour labor all the more awe-inspiring. I’m certain your daughter is a lovely person, but I woulda dropped her like a hot potato after that little test of endurance.

  9. I am sorry for your problems, as I’ve had some short cuts taken by builders on a new house that were dangerous and fortunately caught. I live in wonder of what else too!! But, I will admit I laughed as I read your story. This is Erma Bombeck worthy, with a little more drama. You are a humorist at heart and that’s why I enjoy your entertaining posts.

  10. I think the Mr Derp’s of the world get so tired of doing things correctly for others that they go straight to ‘if it doesn’t blow up, it’s good’ for their own stuff … either that or he’s a sadist. 🙂

  11. mr derp must get around the country, his carpentry unskills are visible here, at my house! too many to list, but the new name for our builder is now mr derp! perhaps you can start a checking account just for home repairs, and hand the repair person the atm card, tell him to just leave the receipts on the counter when they are through? ;/

  12. I’m related to Mr. Derp and he lives with us (we bought the family home, with him in it, at a discount!) . Fortunately, he knows what he did, so all I have to do is ask where the issues are. He’s pretty proud of them.

  13. You kill me. I know whereof you speak-eth. Our home was built in 1926. We’ve discovered that the previous owners cut corners, like using wood wedges to prop up the entryway tile floor. Or running only one heating duct and register to heat three rooms on our top floor. And not sealing the junction between the foundation slab and the external concrete so that moisture wicks into the first floor. We’re about to embark on a large remodel, unless we chicken out, sell the house with the plans we paid an architect a pretty penny for, and go find a condo where “problems” are someone else’s worry.

  14. I don’t have any horror home stories but yours was enough. I liked reading this post u r a talented writing.

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