Years ago, my wife got up one Saturday and announced she was going to Clements Antiques to buy a claw-foot tub. While she was away, I was to tear out the old shower and ready the space for the new tub.
We both believed the whole process would be completed by supper. I owned one hammer and one handsaw at the time. I made up for the lack of tools with my complete lack of knowledge or experience in remodeling endeavors. I watched "This Old House" a lot, though.
As everyone who's tackled something as seemingly simple as hanging a picture frame knows, nothing is easy when it comes to home repairs. Our remodel would take six months and involve framing, drywall, masonry, electrical and plumbing.
This last part was easily the most frustrating, and it was only because of my complete naiveté that I even tackled it. I think it was Donald Rumsfeld who talked about the unknown unknowns. That's what it was like for me. My approach was to start cutting and figure it out later.
This was before the Internet, mind you. I read books and found a short section on sweating copper pipes, crawled under the house and fired up a torch. I quickly learned that even the tiniest bit of water inside a copper pipe will cool it just enough to prevent the solder from forming a tight seal.
Of course, the only real way to check for leaks is by turning the water back on. If it leaks, you start over. I started over a lot. Frustrated, I finally went down to Keefe Plumbing and approached the guy at the counter. He kindly shared a brilliant trick. He told me to ball up a piece of white bread and force it into the pipe. It will hold back the drip long enough to allow the pipe end to heat up. Turning the water on flushes it out.
It worked like a charm.
I related this to a co-worker one day, and he smiled and told me about a plumber friend who had a job on Missionary Ridge. At some point, the plumber asked the elderly home-owner for a slice of white bread. Figuring the man was hungry and too proud to ask for lunch, she made him a sandwich.
The unknown unknowns still scare me when it comes to home repairs, but Google and YouTube have changed a lot of that. We all know YouTube is the place to go for videos of grown men getting kicked in the crotch, but it is also an unbelievable source for videos on how to fix or repair almost anything.
Before tackling a broken dryer years ago, I found a video some guy in Illinois had posted of him fixing the exact problem on the exact model I had. The whole job took 30 minutes, and that included a trip to the store for parts.
Several weeks ago, I noticed my stereo speakers had some dry-rot and the foam surround rings were shot. I've thrown a half-dozen pairs of speakers away over the years because somewhere along the way I came to believe that you had to be a NASA engineer to recone them yourself or a bazillionaire to pay someone to do it.
Just for giggles, I got on YouTube and watched a couple of videos. Five minutes later, I found a source in the Netherlands for the foam rings. After figuring out the exchange rate for euros, I ordered them. They arrived a week later. The job was messy and took about two hours to do both, but the speakers look and sound great.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...