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November 6, 2008

From the Publisher's Desk: Compromise is key to successful home renovation


If there is one thing I learned over the years, it is not to take on a home-improvement project with my spouse.

My husband, Kevin, and I come from distinct backgrounds. My schooling and expertise is in finance, and Kevin has worked in the construction field for more than a decade.

I have found that the two often conflict in the simplest of projects.

Roughly 10 years ago, when we were looking to buy a house, all we could afford was a fixer-upper, which I was reluctant to take on.

Kevin convinced me by saying age gave a house more character and, with his background, he could make our purchase the quaint home I envisioned. That has since seemed an insurmountable task for several reasons.

First, whether it was when we were replacing our porch, picking paint colors or deciding if the replacement windows should have grids in them, it became apparent that coming to a consensus was near impossible. Our conversation usually started out by Kevin asking what I wanted, me explaining what I had in mind, and then him replying it can’t be done.

My frustration with each discussion built and I just threw up my hands and thought, “Then why ask?” Now, since The Daily Star renovation project, I have learned more about the construction business than I wanted to know. I can now have an intelligent conversation (well, at least in terminology) on load-bearing walls, installing tile and drain pitches.

Now I know Kevin was not saying something can’t be done because he may not want to do the work. It just simply can’t be done. In case he missed it, I have now admitted he knows more than me when it comes to this topic, and I will accept that going forward.

Yet, there is one arena where I trump him, and that is with money. Kevin hates that I want an estimate before we decide if we are going to move ahead with a particular project, but that is where my diligence takes over.

His bone of contention is that sometimes it isn’t that easy. As anyone with an old house knows, once you start demolishing, you never know what you are going to find behind that lathe and plaster _ and nothing is level!

Depending on what you find, your costs can skyrocket. Any accountant will cringe when his or her spouse takes off to Munson’s or Stock Building Supply to get more material or opens the Lowe’s bill and sees the budget blown out of the water.

Estimating is an art, and large variances never make me smile, unless, of course, it comes in under budget. Kevin has learned to aim high and reap the benefits when the project comes in lower than anticipated. I just have not figured out how much cushion he has been adding in!

Now we can venture down the timeline and completion path. I, of all people, know that when you have a schedule that consists of a full-time job, children, meetings, etc., your time is limited as to how much can be dedicated to get a project done.

The last thing I want to do when I get home is pay bills, so I can only assume most folks don’t want to work all day in their selected field and then come home and do it for another couple of hours.

That is why the old saying that a mechanic’s spouse is the last to get the car serviced also applies to a contractor’s wife. We have worked many late nights that have ended in the wee hours of the morning or straight through a weekend to finish a project that needed to be done before a large event. This sometimes resulted in being at each other’s throats.

In a rush, the finishing details, well, never seem to get finished. So we, or I guess I, made a new rule for the Shalor family to live by: No new project starts until the last one is completed.

That means touch-up paint, caulking, or the last piece of trim needs to be done before we move on. Kevin and I are still coming to terms on that one!

It is rewarding stepping back and admiring the finished project, but it’s not without its struggles along the way. Over the last five years, Kevin and I have found that happy medium in working together on improvement projects in our 100-plus-year-old home. I think we have moved beyond the screaming matches or the throwing up of the arms and storming out of a room muttering “do it yourself, then” under our breath.

How? Well, we have learned two things. First, I put the suit aside and throw on the old sweats and stained T-shirt and pitch in with manual labor. I’m not sure how much of a help I am, but it does make the project go quicker and Kevin often gets a few chuckles.

Second, and most important, we work at the same time but not on the same thing. In our latest project, for example, he put up trim while I grouted the tile. We have found that harmony that works for us. Now if we can only apply that to the household chores.

On the smoking front, nothing has changed. I do have a doctor’s appointment, at which I will ask about Chantix. I need that extra push to overcome my addiction, and at $125 for a month’s prescription, the commitment is there. I just need to school myself on the drug and its side effects before making the decision about whether it is the right route for me. I will keep you posted.

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Tanya Shalor is publisher of The Daily Star and may be reached at (607) 432-1000, ext. 214, or tshalor@thedailystar.com.