Renovation Roadtrip: Things I Learned from Meryl and Chris

Let’s have a moment of truth here, because if nothing else I like to be honest with the entire Internet about my personal strengths (i.e. I own a lot of power tools) and, as we like to say in the biz, “areas of opportunity” (or, as we say in the less politically correct areas of life, “shit I’m not good at.”) For example: I don’t always play well with others.

It’s not that I don’t like other people, although, granted, the fact that I chose to live in the middle of nowhere might suggest otherwise. It’s really just that I do my best work when I can take an idea from concept to completion on my own. So, for months before the actual Renovation Roadtrip, when I knew Meryl and Chris were coming to the house, my whole inner dialogue was all, “woo hoo, this is going to be awesome!” and then about five minutes before they got to the house I was all, “holy shit, what if I lose my temper and throw my tools in front of them?” Not unheard of, people.

And here’s something I realized… in almost eight years of tearing apart houses and putting them back together, I’ve never actually worked side-by-side with other DIYers before. I’ve learned from pros, and yes, I did build a house with a dude who more often than not wanted to wrap me in duct tape and shove me into a closet, but neither of those scenarios are shining examples of collaborative DIY.

So, hey, guess what? This is shocking… you actually learn a lot of stuff working with other people who have torn their own house apart and put it back together. Without google. Consider my mind officially blown.

Here’s a few things I learned from Meryl and Chris when they were here:

1.) How not to make a huge-ass mess during demo.

See this?


When we started demoing the tile around the tub in the master bath, I did what I always do… started whacking away at it with the hammer (see my work on the right.) Meryl and Chris, on the other hand, were smart enough to break up the tile at the top and then pry the entire sheet off backerboard off (tile included) in one piece (see Meryl being way smarter than me on the left).

This is the exact moment I stopped what I was doing, looked over, and realized that they are much better at demo, but I am much better at making messes. We all have our strengths.

 2.) How not to electrocute yourself when connecting and disconnecting wires, even when you’re not sure if the breaker is off.

I shocked the crap out of myself once about twenty years ago, and I’ve pretty much stayed the hell away from live wires ever since. That’s not to say I won’t change a light fixture or outlet, I’m just super careful about making sure there is no power to the lines I’m working on, even if it means shutting off every breaker in the box. (Which I do frequently, and explains why the clocks on my oven and microwave are always six hours off– thank you Chris, for resetting them.)

There’s a part of me that knows you actually have to complete a circuit to get shocked, but the details about how one uses one’s body as a conductor are a little fuzzy.

Now, I didn’t try any of these out personally, but while I was wedged in a 6″ space behind the tub disconnecting the wires, Chris did give me some tips on how not to shock the shit out of myself if I’m ever wedged behind a tub without Meryl around to run downstairs and check to make sure the breaker is off.

  • When disconnecting wires, always disconnect in this order: Hot (black), neutral (white), ground (green/copper). When connecting wires, always connect in the reverse order: Ground (green/copper), neutral (white), hot (black.)
  • If you’re wearing rubber soled shoes or standing on a fiberglass ladder, you can touch a live wire without acting as a human lightning rod.
  • Technically you can touch the insulated part of a wire even if you’re grounded, but if there’s any holes in the rubber sheathing… no good for you.

3.) How not to be lazy about learning a new skill.

Truth: There’s no reason at all I shouldn’t have been able to soldier caps onto the pipes with the leaky shutoff valves. I own a torch, soldier, and flux, and for the most part I know how to use them. However, sometimes diving into a new thing that I know I can do but I just haven’t prepped for just seems like a lot of work. And a lot of time spent watching you tube videos.

Since Chris is pretty well versed in sweating pipes, it only took a few minutes (once we had all the right parts) for a quick run-down on cutting the pipes, cleaning and deburring them, and then fluxing (if that’s not a verb, it should be), heating, and soldiering them. The whole process took about 10 minutes, and if I’d attempted to do it strictly on my own, it would have been at least an hour.

It’s fun to teach myself something new all on my own, but it’s not always efficient, and sometimes it keeps me from diving in and doing things that need to be done. Lesson learned: call Meryl and Chris next time I’m procrastinating.

4.) A hammer can serve the dual purpose of tile demolition tool and fly swatter.

For real.

5.) It’s not just me.

There have been a lot of times when I’m sitting on this end of the computer going, “Is it just me, or [fill in the blank]?” And sometimes I feel like I might be the only person out there who gets a twitch in her left eye when there is a discernible pattern to the way the seams line up on wood flooring or ceiling planks. It drives me nuts. I prefer things to be completely random (you’re shocked, I know.) Turns out, no, I am not the only person who feels this way, so it was awesome to have Meryl as the official board cutter for the ceiling planks, since she is an excellent seam staggerer.

We also happen to be two peas in a pod when it comes to things like the inability to turn the wrench the right way when trying to loosen a bolt from the “wrong” side. I swear Chris could have just left a tape recorder in the room with us set to say “Nope. The other way.” on repeat, and then left for an hour to get some coffee.

 6.) It’s fun to DIY together. So I guest that should be DIT, actually, but it doesn’t have the same ring.

Even doing a crappy job like moving the tub down the stairs is way more fun when you’re working with people who have a sense of humor. Plus there is someone else there to witness the awesomeness of an old house when the hallway light fixture turns on every time you shoot a finish nail into the ceiling…

So what I would say is that overall it was a great learning experience for me in terms of both skill and playing well with others.

I’ll be giving you more in-depth updates on the work that was done on the Liberty House when they were here just as soon as the roadtrippers account of the madness is posted on Tinkernation. In the meantime, you can get a sneak peek at the progress here, and check out what Meryl and Chris we’re up to over at the Turtle House here and here, before they stopped at my mess place.


7 Responses

  1. Great insights. I have a tendency to dismiss a project and ignore it forever if I don’t know how to do it…guess I need to find my own Meryl and Chris to teach me how to do stuff!

  2. Lots of insights here for me as well. Thank you. I find I work better… sometimes…when someone is around to encourage me…other times prefer alone. Always thought you would be great to work with because I wouldn’t have to decipher (aka “wade through”) a ton of pc-ness and fluff.

  3. Please tell me you found the reason the light kept coming on when the finishing nail was shot into the ceiling…Oh, man, I am gonna worry about fire until your next post!!!

    Meanwhile, sounds like a good time was had by all.

  4. “…someone else there to witness the awesomeness of an old house when the hallway light fixture turns on every time you shoot a finish nail into the ceiling…”


    Ah yes, the “charm” of an older home… x-D

  5. I don’t know if I could handle doing DIY by myself, I tend to get more annoyed if I am working solo then if I have someone to bounce off of.

    John@ KDCUK

  6. I laughed out loud about the whole “wrong” way thing. That damn lefty loosey righty tighty thing just never clicks in my head so I’m glad there’s two of us 🙂

Comments are closed.

I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.