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Richard Harter, Construction Engineer

Opening Doors

I only open doors for my inferiors, my equals, and my superiors; I opine that it’s their business to figure out which category they belong in and no concern of mine.

Building a Wall

Of late I have become quite the home improvement Johnny. The last time I indulged in this sort of madness was in the late seventies. That would be the 1970’s, not to be confused with the 1870’s. Home improvement is one of those vices that should not be indulged in more frequently than 25 years between sessions. I suppose I shall have to do this again sometime around 2030.

The current spasm of house improvement comes about because I am living in the family home that my parents built. It is a wonderful house but it, ah, hadn’t been maintained for a few years. I’ve been busy with the little things – painting, cleaning, putting in a new bathroom, throwing away antique rugs, decontaminating, that sort of thing.

The latest project was a wall. The original wall was paneled with an oak veneer plywood. It was a long wall, some twenty odd feet long. It was a lovely wall. Unfortunately it had some water damage, and there was very good reason to believe that there was mold behind the wall. Mold, my children, is one of those things that one should take seriously.

I might have not done anything about the wall – after all the water damage was inconspicuous, and the mold was likely long dead and not active – but Our Lady of the Large Black Dog serves as my conscience in these matters, and she said, “Richard, Do Something About That Wall. I will help you.” I am not one to turn down good advice, particularly when it comes with an offer of help.

The decision was made; the wall would come down and a new wall would take its place. When one undertakes these little projects it pays to do things in the right order. Thus it would have been an error to tear the wall down and then wonder what to put up in its place. As it happened, Deborah and I had occasion to visit Sioux Falls, which, if it is not quite the cosmopolitan metropolis that its residents think it is, nonetheless has a Home Depot.

We hied (good word that, “hie”) ourselves to said megastore with a view to examining panelling. As we wandered about examining thingies that would have been perfect additions to the house if I were someone else with completely different tastes we happened to pass the floor tiles section. Deborah and I had had good fortune laying down a tile floor in her bathroom so we (or at least I) were favorably disposed to working with such tiles. These, by the way, aren’t ceramic tiles; they are those linoleum like tiles with sticky backs that don’t need an adhesive. You just pop them in place. Piece of cake. A child could lay these tiles. Adults, of course, might have some difficulty.

I was particularly entranced with a pattern called Morrocan Slate that slightly resembled granite if granite were rusty brown and sandstone in color. Inspiration struck (I still have a knot on my head from the blow) and I said to Deborah, “I like. What about putting up plywood and then putting tile on top of it.” She said something encouraging like, “That’s a crazy idea.” After some demented burbling on my part she eventually conceded that maybe it might work. Encouraged by these enthusiastic sentiments I purchased six boxes of tiles.

Having determined what the wall would eventually be, I moved onto the next stage, namely getting things done. In case you are wondering, no, I am not so foolish as to attempt to do all of the work myself. Some, yes, but I called in help for the carpentry and the wiring. Wiring, you ask?

Yes, wiring. This house was built in 1949. In those days two outlets in a room was advanced thinking. Grounded outlets didn’t exist, or, if they did exist somewhere, they didn’t exist in Highmore, South Dakota. My thought was that as long as the wall was going to be open to the studs it was a perfect chance to update the wiring. I did not settle for half measures. The two ungrounded outlets were replaced by six grounded double outlets (room for four plugs at each outlets) and three telephone jacks. It is these little excesses that give me a well deserved reputation for eccentricity among the locals.

So. Monday the panelling goes away. Tuesday and Wednesday the wiring goes in with oodles of little boxes hanging off of the studs. Thursday Deborah and I wash down the studs with TSP (yes, there was mold on them) and then paint them with Kilz. On Friday the carpenter put up the plywood panelling. He is a polite, amiable, and good natured chap, so he didn’t say too much about the number of holes he had to cut in the plywood. He did mention, though, that he had never had to cut quite so many holes for such a simple job.

Once the plywood was up Deborah and I started putting up tiles. Correction: First we applied something called adhesive primer that is supposed to help tiles and such stick better to raw wood. I am skeptical about this stuff. It has much the same consistency as water and seemed to be about as effective. Maybe we didn’t shake it enough.

Once we had slopped on the adhesive primer and let it dry then we started putting up tiles. The process is simple; you put up one tile as a starter and then just keep putting up new ones next to the ones you’ve already put up. What could be simpler. Er, there is a little catch. Remember those holes. We had to cut out nine holes for all of those boxes. We also had to cut tiles at the top and bottom of the wall and at the end when we ran out of wall. Still and all it went fast enough.

What’s more almost all of the tiles stayed on the wall. Almost all, you ask? Well, yes. It seems that that adhesive primer didn’t quite do the job. Certain of the tiles (but only a few) spent some time on the wall and then fell to the floor like gentle rain. Some merely had to be remounted. Some, the more wayward ones, needed the aid of some floor adhesive. I think, nay hope, that they are all happily seated now.

Be that as it may, the wall looks really nice.

This page was last updated July 1, 2003.
It was reformatted and moved May 15, 2006.

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