Thursday, January 15, 2009

Free advice from an architect

First off, I have to welcome Small Town, a new blogger and an architect in the northeast. Thanks for joining us here on the intertubes, man! As a small firm/solo practicioner, you may have some useful info to add to today's post.

If you have any kind of college degree or profession, I bet you get asked for free advice or services. Come on, everyone raise your hand if you’re a doctor, an IT specialist, an aesthetician, a plumber, anything that requires money and an appointment to get done. Same thing with architects—Lawd, we can’t go to a party and say what we do without someone asking us to look at this or that, or how can we add on to the house, or we want to put a deck on back here, or should we do this or that to the house. Usually, Guy and I recommend getting fire insurance and a friend who can work without leaving behind fingerprints or receipts for kerosene and matches. If the person asking keep imploring us for free advice, we tell them our fee, which is what our respective firms charge for our time. That usually shuts them up. However, as architects who constantly absorb and analyze the built world, Guy and I sometimes can’t help but give free advice. When an uncle of mine was building a new house, Guy toured it with some of the family and noticed an opportunity for them to add a small wing wall and a countertop in order to make a bill-paying/mail-catching/phone-locating nook. He told me after the house visit that he felt like he may have been “too” architecty, strolling around telling my uncle how to “improve” his house now that it was over half finished. My uncle ended up taking Guy’s advice, and he raved to us later about how great that little alcove was near the kitchen, how useful, and how he’d never have thought of it himself, and thanks so much for the advice. And that was $80/hour advice at the time, for free.

The world is full of free advice. Every health and fitness magazine has free advice from nutritionists, personal trainers, and doctors, and all it really costs you is the price of the magazine. Every home improvement magazine has tons of advice from builders, interior designers, organizational consultants, and the like. There are countless articles and websites and news features and TV shows with advice from well-renumerated professionals, and while you do have to pay for internet service and cable TV, that cost compared to the cost of hiring all those people to help you personally makes it pretty much free. But advice at any price is useless if it doesn’t really help you, or if it would help you but you don’t take it.

I realize that I have a disclaimer on my blog sidebar that says what you read on this blog shouldn’t be taken as gospel, and I stand by that. But what else am I doing right now of any use? So, as a service to my non-architectural WAD readers, here’s a little free advice from a professional for everyone thinking about adding on or renovating their home:

  1. Purge. Purge, my children. Purge your possessions. Get rid of anything and everything that you could have used in the past year but haven’t. Look at mementos you’ve been holding onto and really think about if you’re still the same person if you were to get rid of it. If you can’t get rid of it, where can you put it so that it can be appreciated and not in the way? Donate clothing that you won’t or can’t wear. Donate books and housewares to Goodwill or other thrift stores. Donate furniture and home accessories to a thrift store or sell them on eBay or Craigslist. Chuck magazines in the recycling. Shred financial documents over seven years old and bills, etc over a year old.
  2. And then scrub. Clean like a mofo. Shampoo the carpets and rugs. Wipe down walls. That’s right, I said wipe down walls, any walls you think someone might even have a chance of having put their hands on. Wipe down baseboards and polish/clean furniture and blinds. Vacuum, sweep, swiff, and mop your floors. Give your bathroom and kitchen fixtures and appliances a good scrubbing. If you can find one of those household steamers, like a Steam Shark, get or borrow it and go to town. Purge and clean. Purge and clean.
  3. When you’re done purging and cleaning, that’s the best time to really assess whether and how much to remodel or add on or whatever. At least one in five people who are thinking about renovating or adding on to their home and who follows steps 1 and 2 will discover that they don’t need to do a damn thing once they’ve gotten rid of some stuff and cleaned what’s left. Well, maybe a few throw pillows, but other than that, they’re done. Also, steps 1 and 2 will show you what you really have to work with and what you have that needs storing or showing off.
  4. Every home improvement project involves three factors: time, money, and energy/motivation. When you consider taking on a home project, especially a DIY project, you need to assess how much of each these things you have. What’s especially important is to recognize of which of these you have the least. Let that be your guide as to what you do in your project. For example, if you have the least of time and only slightly more of money, then you’re going to want to save the extra cash or do some bartering or something to hire someone to do at least some of the work so that whatever time you do have is best spent.
  5. The fourth factor in home improvement is the Universal Law of Handiness. If you’re not very handy, either take a class at Home Depot or somewhere similar or get a handy friend to help. Or again, save up the extra cash and hire someone.
  6. If you’re doing anything beyond wiring a new light fixture into an old light fixture, hire an electrician. Please believe me—it’s worth the cash. If you fuck up a pipe, you’ll send water a-spraying and will need a bunch of towels to clean up, but if you fuck up wiring, you’ll be staring at a pile of cinders where your awesome house used to be and trying to explain to the nice firemen what happened. Do not taunt happy fun electricity.

    There. You’re welcome.


ms. kitty said...

Woowee, Pixie, what good advice! Thanks.

Small Town said...

Thanks for the props.
As architects, we tend to need to see the whole "big picture" before we analyze and offer solutions. I often analyze and question how my friends and family live in their house, and this often completely changes the scope of the project [$$$]. They've stopped asking me now.

Anonymous said...

I purged some before the move, and now that I am no longer the owner of a walk up unfinished bonus room type attic, I am going to be purging more when the movers arrive.

I can also reccomment - SCAN IN THE OLD PHOTOS - put them on CD, hell, pay walmart or some such to do it. If you're like me I have a whole drawer of old photos just hanging out. I don't go through them often if ever, so they are just taking up space. CD much easier.

good assvice.

faded said...

If you are going to do a DIY project, you need to become a planimal. I have replace the kithchen in my house, 2 bath rooms, repainted the inside and outside of the house and a bunch of other stuff. I always make a list of very detail and visulaise each thing I am going to do and look for problems. It can take a long time to do this but when the project is going on I am well prepared and in control.

The biggest project I have ever done was a log cabin kit. I purchased it and it arrived on two semi trailers with a set of plans. For the next 18 months I stacked logs and spiked the together with 50 penny spikes and an 8 pound sledge. Then I did wiring, plumbing, sheet rock and everything else need to build it.