“DIY” and underslab plumbing.

23Jul08

I’m not a big fan of the term “DIY.” I’m not entirely sure why—somehow it evokes visions of crocheted doilies and poorly-applied paint. Glue guns, duct tape, and leaky plumbing. It’s not that I don’t think people should do things for themselves, and make efforts to create their own environment(s) in an age when everything we touch is imported, mass-produced, and designed to be acquired, used, and discarded with a minimum of effort. I’m just not sure that our acts of creativity should be labeled with an acronym that is being promoted by all manner of corporate entities that want us to tune into their television show or buy the paint-by-numbers kit.

“Do-it-yourself” is certainly a concept that has managed to permeate the culture. When we were in the fishing village of Shek-O in Hong Kong, we were flying our kite – camera contraption (known as a Kite Aerial Photography rig), and some woman came up to us and asked, “Is that a DIY project?” She was presumably an educated Chinese woman, who simply wanted to know if we’d made the contraption ourselves. So why was I irritated by the question? I guess because the term “DIY” suggested (to me) that we’d bought a kit and glued some parts together while following along with a 4-minute video from YouTube. The reality was that we’d built the thing from scratch, machined parts out of stock aluminum, fabricated a camera cradle, and worked out all the bugs through our own tiny R&D process. (Except for lack of appropriate wind. We never managed to work out that particular bug.) So I hereby officially apologize to the woman in Hong Kong if I was a bit short with her because she used the term “DIY.” I didn’t mind her question—only her choice of acronyms.

If I can put aside the popular promotion of DIY-as-a-strategy-to-consume-more-stuff, then I can easily recognize that many people find it deeply satisfying to create things for themselves. My Mom and sister are both compulsive knitters (and have been since long before knitting saw its recent renaissance.) I’ve been considering staging some sort of intervention for them, because they practically start shaking if they’re left alone for more than five minutes without some knitting to keep their hands busy. It’s not that they need all those hats. It’s just that the act of making them is somehow very satisfying.

The developed world has become so ridiculously “professionalized” and “specialized” that people have come to believe that they can’t or shouldn’t do things for themselves. I recently got a catalog that suggested you ought to hire their “experts” to come over to your house and measure for curtains! Do we really live in a society where people aren’t empowered to operate a tape measure? By creating the “profession” of curtain-measuring is Smith & Noble going to free the world from the hazards of poorly-fitted curtains? (Do these professional curtain-measurers have professional liability insurance, in case they happen to mis-manage their tape measures?)

Enough of my rant. Perhaps because of our respective up-bringings, Luke & I have always lived on the edge—daring to measure for our own damn curtains (and then make them ourselves). When it comes to doing things ourselves, we tend to go a bit overboard. When we got married, we cast our own rings in gold & silver, we made our own wedding invitations, and we rebuilt our 1970 Series II Land Rover so that we’d have something truly funky to drive away from the wedding (leaking oil all the way). We’re not very good at knowing our own limits, however, and we’re prone to stressing ourselves out the very point of exhaustion. When I decided that I’d make my own wedding dress, my wise mother put her foot down and said “no.” We went to the store and within three hours, I had a wedding dress. Thank goodness. We were desperately trying to finish our wedding rings the day before driving to NM for the wedding—I can’t imagine throwing a half-completed wedding dress into the mix. (Especially since we had to allow extra time to drive the Land Rover several hundred miles at 50 mph– the fastest it can go without leaving a shower of parts on the roadway.)

And now we’ve moved on from mere wedding rings to completely rebuilding a wreck of a house. We’re still not very good at knowing our own limits, because we bought this place, and in spite of the fact that we really needed a place to live, we proceeded to tear the place down to the studs. Then, when the house was nothing but bare studs, we jacked the center wall up, installed a few beams, and ripped out more studs. (This, I believe, is our perfectionistic tendencies coming back to bite us, because we still really need a place to live.)

So, the reason I started this rant about the term “DIY” is that True Value is holding a contest in which contestants are asked to blog about their favorite DIY projects. (Winners are chosen at random, and receive a $300 gift certificate to spend at True Value stores.) I thought I’d enter, because, while I’m happy to disparage the term “DIY”, I have no unkind words for the local hardware store, and I’m not above having an extra $300 to spend there. We got to our local True Value Hardware store nearly every weekend (V&V Hardware in Monte Vista, Colorado). They’re open 7 days a week, and are friendly and helpful. There is no Home Despot or Lowes within several hundred miles of where we live, and we happily support the little local guys, who almost always have the PVC fitting we need, and are only a couple of blocks away from our project. And they remain in a small, struggling, historic downtown.

What is my favorite sub-project in our larger house-building project? I’d have to say it’s the underslab plumbing that Luke is installing at this very moment. It’s not glamorous. I am sorry to be unable to contribute photos of a pristine-and-fully-finished kitchen like many of the other contestants. (Believe me– I’d do anything to have a finished kitchen at this point!) The underslab plumbing is my favorite project because after months of depressing demolition, the beginnings of a plumbing system is a potent symbol of things to come. It marks the beginning of re-building, and the end of un-building. It is a series of traps and vents and purple primer that all point to our unending hope that someday our house will become our home. And I’m grateful that Luke knowns a “Street 90” from a “Long sweep 90,” and that we know who to ask when we don’t have the answers (thanks, Marcos). In the endless project that is our house, a few lengths of PVC and a roll of 3/4 soft copper is all we’ve got to brag about.

I salute those of you housebloggers who have self-made & shiny kitchens. Can you see that I’m green with envy? Me– I’ve got some trenches and few drain lines: DIY without the aid of kits or glue-guns.

This post was written for Houseblogs.net as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value. For more information about the contest, click here. True Value’s website is www.StartRightStartHere.com .

Luke compacting dirt prior to digging it all up into little trenches for underslab utilities.

It has to look worse before it can look better, right? (That’s what my mother used to tell me while I was agonizing over cleaning my room.)

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4 Responses to ““DIY” and underslab plumbing.”

  1. Loved this post! DIY also brings such things to mind for me–is this something from our upbringing? And probably I do need an intervention in the knitting department–I found myself at Village Wools in Albuquerque Monday for several hours (and a lot of money later)… they bill themselves as “Fiber Addiction Specialists” and they sure are good at selling stuff to fiber addicts. I’m not sure it is acure-able condition however. I’m off to put fiber on a naked loom. 🙂 Love, your sis

  2. 2 lauracm

    Thanks, sis. We’re temporarily holding off on the intervention, but if there are any signs of foaming at the mouth due to forced separation from the knitting needles, I’m always prepared to call 911.

  3. 3 Liz

    Laura – you have a fantastic blog. I’m a huge fan of historic preservation and I’m so impressed with the project you and Luke have taken on. Thanks for your comments on my blog and I’ve added you to my links. I’m looking forward to reading about your progress!

  4. 4 lauracm

    Thanks, Liz. Enjoy your new bathroom, and here’s hoping that one day we’ll have one of those also….


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