What do you do if you’ve been living in a place for three years, and all evidence forces you to surmise that it was built by apathetic teenage monkeys from Dummies, Inc.?

Every single time I’ve worked on a project in this house – I kid you not, every single time – I stumble upon yet another way in which the contractors who built this house were glaringly – and boldly, and creatively – incompetent. My favorite example (and the most illustrative) is when I went to put shelves in my shed and, after half an hour of frustrated searching mixed with sweat and expletives, figured out that they had put the studs in horizontally (the only reason it took me so long to figure it out is because they had covered everying up with drywall to hide their mistake – and you never ever put drywall outdoors, because guess what, it rots! Which ours is now, of course, in the process of doing. -sigh-). All I can do is hope (and pray, and avoid spending time on the second floor) that they had enough sense NOT to do this in the rest of the house.

The latest adventure began when our sad little 27-year-old bathroom exhaust fan finally died. We went to Lowe’s and bought an upgrade for what should have been a half-hour installation. It should have been just a little more complicated than installing a new light fixture: I’d have to crawl around in the attic a bit, but only to unscrew the old fan and rescrew the new one, and that should have been all there was to it. It wasn’t that easy, of course.

The first thing I discovered was that the fan was installed with the mounting brackets – the brackets that mount to the joists – pointing out into thin air. Ooookay, I reasoned, the exhaust duct was attached on the other side, so that must have been why they turned the fan in that direction – to fit it to the duct. But the duct – just a simple piece of aluminum pipe, really – was held in place up near the roof with a single aluminum strap held in place with a couple nails, so that didn’t explain it either. It wasn’t like it was complicated to move or install. It took me, with nothing more than a simple hammer, less than five minutes to rectify that particular part of what their laziness had wrought. So why didn’t they just move the duct to the next set of rafters on the other side of the fan, and turn the fan around so it could be mounted to the joists? Ah, well, I figured, trying to be charitable, at least it’d make my job that much easier if I didn’t have to unscrew the old fan. I joyfully reached to lift up the old fan. And tugged. And tugged. And pryed. And cursed.

Turns out that, instead of just moving the duct’s two nails and installing the fan the way it was frickin’ supposed to be installed, they thought they’d save themselves a bit of time. Instead of moving the duct, they took apart the fan’s guts until they could get to the aluminum housing. Then they proceeded to nail it to the studs with HUGE, THREE-INCH NAILS. Right through the housing.

This discovery did not make me happy. After another requisite number of groans and moans, I went back up to the attic (this time armed with a fiberglass-safe mask, thanks to Josh, who cares whether I get lung cancer) and began a frustrating, sweaty, angry hour of sawing at the nasty nails with an old bent metal-cutting saw. Because there was no way those suckers were allowing themselves to be pryed out.

Once I had finally gotten the old, sad, twisted, punctured, beaten, and defeated piece of machinery out of there, installing the new fan, moving the exhaust duct, screwing everything in place and hooking up the electricity took just about the originally expected thirty minutes. (In which time I also discovered that our new, very expensive roof had no ridge vent, nor actually any kind of ventilation at all, for which someone – namely the roofing company – is going to answer). By the time I’d finished, I’d already spent hours on the project. Now *why* couldn’t they just have done it right to begin with?

Josh often asks me, when I emerge dusty, sweaty, and angry from on top of the roof, holes in the ground outside, holes in the walls, under the sink, behind the toilet, in the attic, and the other places my hobby tends to take me, whether I really enjoy this, and if not, why don’t we just hire someone to do it? Well, as to the first question, I don’t know if I enjoy the process as much as the end result: though I didn’t know before that the fan was so grieviously installed, now I know that I did it better than the “pros”. And I guess that answers the second question too: when I finish something, I know it’s done right. Maybe ugly, but right.

What if, when we had nearly finished hanging the cabinets and discovered (oh, how I keep learning things about our contractor’s work ethics!) that there was no stud despite the fact that there was a 25″ gap waiting to be filled (studs must, by code, be installed on 16″ centers. The fact that the contractors would skimp so much on 2x4s by spreading the gap between studs by as much as 10″ makes me very, very wary of the second floor. It also makes me want to sue the pants off them). Anyway, as I was saying – what if we’d hired someone to hang the cabinets for us and he’d discovered that there was no stud available and, late for another job, decided that drywall screws were good enough? Would he have spent the extra two days reopening the wall and inserting horizontal blocking between the two existing studs to make sure the middle cabinet was hung right? I’d certainly hope so, but we have no way of knowing. And now, because I did it myself, I know for certain that I could fill that particular cabinet to Kingdom Come with cans of tomato sauce and it would never, ever, fall off the wall.

That said, I have no intentions of going through this particular adventure again. The fan downstairs – of the same vintage – has begun making funny noises. I live in fear.

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