In this episode, Stacy chats with Christopher Hewitt. Christopher started My Old House fix, a blog, website, and Facebook group to offer a place for old house owners to find the answers to their DIY questions and dilemmas. Also, Stacy discusses...
In this episode, Stacy chats with Christopher Hewitt. Christopher started My Old House fix, a blog, website, and Facebook group to offer a place for old house owners to find the answers to their DIY questions and dilemmas.
Also, Stacy discusses spontaneous combustion and safety.
This episode is supported by The Window Course.
The Window Course is a step-by-step do-it-yourself program that will teach you everything you need to restore historic wood windows successfully. The information is comprehensive and taught with Scott’s signature approachable style. For 10% off, visit The Window Course and use the coupon code truetales.
Thank you for listening to True Tales From Old Houses.
Until next time,
Stacy Grinsfelder 0:00
On today's show, I'll talk about spontaneous combustion and safety. And later, my guest, Christopher Hewitt is here to talk about his online community, My Old House Fix. But first. I'm Stacy Grinsfelder from Blake Hill House and I am the host of True Tales From Old Houses.
Hello, everyone and welcome back. It is hard to believe it, but we are wrapping up season five. I did stretch it out with a few extra episodes, but the last episode of this season will be Monday, August 2. Then we'll be on summer break, and True Tales From Old Houses will resume on Monday, September 13. Something I like to do at the end of every season is to offer a short listener survey to find out what you enjoyed during the season and what you'd like to hear more about in the future. If you could take a few minutes to fill it out, that would be wonderful, and I would be really grateful. And even if you have filled that one before, you're welcome to do it again because the questions do change a little every season. You'll find the survey at TrueTalesFromOldHouses.com/survey, or I'll link it directly on the show notes too.
Next up thank you to everyone who participated in the spring merchandise fundraising event. At this point all of the paid merchandise has been shipped, and there are a few extra work aprons. My philosophy is that all clothes are work clothes if you cover them with an apron. So if you're interested in purchasing one, head on over to the True Tales From Old Houses website, and those aprons are available to ship right away. They're just sitting there waiting for you. And also another quick thank you goes out to someone with the username Lucky7DogRescue for the kind and thoughtful five star review on Apple Podcasts. Leaving ratings and reviews as well as sharing the show on social media helps new people find the show. And of course, I love to hear that True Tales From Old Houses is serving its purpose as education and entertainment in the old house community. I guess that's it for the announcements from me, but as always, if you have information, events, workshops that you'd like the old house community to hear about, please send me an email via the contact page and I will announce them on an upcoming episode. And now would be an especially good time to send me info about any of your fall events. Just remember,tap that contact button on the website.
Instead of a regular Q&A, I have a safety topic that I want to talk about instead. Lately the topic of spontaneous combustion has been coming up in my direct messages and also just generally in my social media feeds. I suppose it's probably coming up more often because it's summer and many of us are using more solvents and stains and paints that type of thing. The term spontaneous combustion gets tossed around as a warning, but what does it mean? Is it really a safety risk? And the short answer is of course, yes.
First, many people confuse the term flammable with combustible. Most of us know that gasoline is flammable. However, my favorite sneakers are also flammable if I set them on fire. Spilled oil? Of course that's flammable. We learned in elementary school, but a peach pie that stays too long in the oven is also flammable. If the conditions are right and something will burn, it is flammable. But when we talk about combustible, that's different. That's a chemical reaction. Basically, if the conditions are right, a combustible substance or rags covered in a combustible substance can set themselves on fire. No matches or hot oven required. And I'll give you a real life example. Let's say that you've just stained some woodwork. You applied the stain with rags and you wiped off the excess the same way. Then you took those stains soaked rags and tossed them in a pile in your garage your basement. Fire needs heat, oxygen and fuel to burn and combustibles such as wood stain create their own heat as they dry. The other two components necessary for a proper fire are everywhere. Oxygen? hello breathing. And as we discussed earlier, many things are flammable and serve as fuel.
So back to your pile of steam covered rags. In that pile, the heat is building up as the stain dries, and the heat cannot dissipate. It has nowhere to go. It's stuck there in the center in that wad of rags. And that heat caused by the chemical reaction can build and build until it finally ignites the whole pile. Once it ignites. The rest is history. At best, you have a small scary fire that you catch right away. At worst, well, picture all of the explosive and flammable products that you keep in a shed or an outbuilding or in the basement. If that's where your rags ignite, the problem has just gone from bad to destructive and deadly. And that's why it's so important to dispose of your rags covered and combustible substances properly.
Great. Now, you know, but how do you do that? I live in a damp and humid climate in the summer, and it's snowy in the winter. I lay my used rags out flat in the yard far away from each other and nowhere close to anything else that might burn. And then I weigh them down with a rock to keep them from blowing into each other or towards any structures. Once those rags are dry, I gather them and toss them in a plastic or metal bin with a tight fitting lid, and that cuts off any additional oxygen. Then, I get rid of it all at my local household hazardous waste collection site. Some trash services allow for a small amount of this carefully packaged waste but mine does not, snd it's terrible for the landfill anyway.
Now, if you live in a dry climate or your area is experiencing a sustained dry spell of weather, I would not risk it and use my method of laying the rags out flat to dry. Let me just say that again, do not risk it because you do not want to be ground zero for a wildfire. Instead, I'd immediately place those rags in an empty metal paint cans or heavy duty plastic then cover them with water out of squirt or two of an oil-dissolving soap maybe like a Dawn dish soap, and tightly cover the containers with a lid and take the whole thing to your household hazardous waste center. I've noticed that some DIY accounts do encourage readers to properly dispose of rags to avoid spontaneous combustion, but many do not. And most do not go into the specifics of proper disposal. Whether you do or don't see a disclaimer, please take spontaneous combustion very seriously. Always read the safety warnings to find out if the product that you're using is combustible, and act accordingly. To learn more, I've written a companion blog article that talks more in depth about the actual chemical process of spontaneous combustion, and some common DIY chemicals and products that are combustible. I also repeated these instructions for safe rag disposal so you can refer back to them as often as you need. I'll link to it in the show notes, or you can find it directly at BlakeHillHouse.com.
Now it's your turn. all season I've been asking you what is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house, and I have a couple of your answers today. Christine discovered that the light in her pantry wasn't wired at all. It had just been screwed to the wall. Well, that's something isn't it? And okay, I love this one. Amy found a cassette tape, and that's really not so weird. However, what was on it was pretty wild. It was a recording of the previous owner's session with a psychic, and I wish I could give that a listen. Do you have an answer to this season's question? If so, visit the True Tales From Old Houses website and submit your answer via voicemail or email. For a voicemail, click on the mic icon in the bottom right hand corner, and you'll see it right on your phone or computer just please answer in a complete sentence. If you prefer to send an email tap contact in the top menu bar. Now, your privacy is important and I won't share your messages without your permission. Thank you Christine and Amy, for taking the time to answer the question about the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house. Now, there will be a new question for season six, and I'll announce it during the next episode.
True Tales From Old Houses is supported by The Window Course from Scott Sidler of The Craftsman Blog. The Window Course is a step by step, Do It Yourself program that will teach you everything you need to successfully restore historic wood windows. It's self-paced, so you can go as fast or as slow as you need, and there are several price points to fit your needs and budget. Okay, I have something exciting to tell you. In case you haven't heard, a couple of weeks ago, Scott introduced a brand new infrared paint remover available only at The Craftsman Blog, and he's calling it the first affordable infrared paint remover on the market. Now that's big news, but it gets better. If you sign up for The Window Course you'll get one of his new infrared paint removers shipped to you for free. The Window Course is offered with a 100% money-back guarantee, and now it comes with an infrared paint remover too. And I've got a coupon code for you. Scott is offering True Tales From Old Houses listeners a special discount. For 10% off, visit TheWindowCourse.com and use the coupon code truetales.
My guest today is Christopher Hewitt. Christopher started My Old House Fix, a blog, website and Facebook group to offer a place for old house owners to find the answers to their DIY questions and dilemmas.
Christopher Hewitt 9:53
Hi, everyone. My name is Chris Hewitt. Live in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the historic old west side in an 1890 Folk Victorian home--been restoring for about 12 years, and I'm the owner of My Old House Fix.
Stacy Grinsfelder 10:06
Well, before we get started, I have to say Go Blue.
Christopher Hewitt 10:10
Stacy Grinsfelder 10:11
Oh, no, no, I am contractually obligated within my marriage to say Go Blue every time someone mentions Ann Arbor or the University of Michigan. So U of M is my husband and his alma mater.
Christopher Hewitt 10:23
Well, and you know, I'm from Alabama, I have to say Roll Tide, but being so close to the stadium, I'm obligated to say Go Blue as well. So all season, we have both flags.
Stacy Grinsfelder 10:34
Well, good. Good. I like to hear that you've merged right into Ann Arbor culture. I don't know if there's a way around it once you're there.
Christopher Hewitt 10:40
Yeah, it's impossible.
Stacy Grinsfelder 10:42
All right. Well, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about your background, and I definitely want to hear about how you found your old house.
Christopher Hewitt 10:50
Okay. Oh, so my background, you know, a lot of people don't even in the group-- they, they see what the work we're doing, and they say, oh, wish I had your skills, and what we try to tell people is the fact that you can learn anything. Everyone starts from somewhere. We all have skills that we acquire through either good jobs that we've had or bad jobs that we've had, I find that as you move through life, you take a little bit from each part and it helps you in ways that you never even knew possible later on in life. So growing up, you know, I'm not ashamed to say that, you know, in a single parent family, my dad passed when I was young. And so my brother and I didn't really have like a father figure to teach us, you know, these core things that we should know.
Stacy Grinsfelder 11:30
I'm sorry to hear that.
Christopher Hewitt 11:31
Oh, thanks. And so I have a twin brother, too. So that's kind of scary. There's like two of me floating around in this world, but it gives you a lot of opportunity to get in trouble and learn things. And we didn't have a lot of money. We had to figure out how to fix things, right? And you know, it started with cars, and you know, just, you know, motorcycles things when you're a kid, right? And, you know, that move toward you on high school, we went to vocational school, which I'm a big proponent of vocational trade schools. I think it's a good base to kind of, you know, teach people and give people something of value they can take with them, you know, whether they go to college or not. You get a little bit of both, but you always have something to fall back on.
Stacy Grinsfelder 12:11
Right. Well, let me stop you for just a sec, I have two things to insert here. First one, you were talking about learning how to fix things that reminded me a lot of the episode with Ward Schraeder from Bargain Mansions. His daughter, he and his daughter do the show Bargain Mansions together, because he was talking about that, too. It's like when you don't have a lot, you learn to fix what you have. And then he started with cars, too. So it was really interesting. There's a little parallel there between you and him. And I also wanted to mention, be sure and mention, we kind of put the cart before the horse there just a little bit when you said group. We're talking about the group on Facebook called My Old House Fix. I think that's what you're talking about. Correct?
Christopher Hewitt 12:48
Stacy Grinsfelder 12:49
Okay. And we're definitely going to get into that. I just wanted to give our listeners some context, before we get into the nitty gritty of what My Old House Fix is. So I would love to hear how you found your house. And you said, it's a folk Victorian, so a little bit about how you found it, what state it was in and how your journey started?
Christopher Hewitt 13:09
Yeah, sure. So you know, growing up, you know, I always like old stuff, old cars, old things, and was never, you know, really in the old house person. And then we moved up here to Ann Arbor, and we were renting. And we were just driving around. It was 2009, the market was way down. It was a buyer's market. And we're just driving around. And we somehow made our way into the historic district here. And we saw this house. It's funny, because we looked at like 20 other houses, but literally on the way to see the agent, we're like going down this hill on Seventh Street, and I saw this house on the right. And it had a two car garage, and I needed a garage to have a place to work, you know, to work on things. I was like, hey, that's it, and it turns out that that was the house we ended up buying even after looking at all the others. So it's kind of crazy that we found it almost right away.
Stacy Grinsfelder 13:56
What state was the house and when you bought it,
Christopher Hewitt 13:58
it was pretty bad. It probably had nothing major done to it and probably 20 or 30 years. So going through the home inspection. Everything from the roof to wiring-- knob and tube wiring was in it--plumbing upgrades, pretty much everything. There was no water pressure. So even the piping from the street. It had good bones. It was nice and solid, but pretty much needed everything to be updated. And fast forward. You know, 12 years later, we're here fixing and crazy how it progresses you know, Never thought I'd live in Michigan and you know, transferred jobs up here from Alabama and here we are 12 years later still in Michigan.
Stacy Grinsfelder 14:34
So if you haven't as a listener, if you have not seen Christopher's-- Well, I keep calling you Christopher. Chris or Christopher?
Christopher Hewitt 14:40
Oh, either. It's fine. Yeah.
Stacy Grinsfelder 14:41
Okay. All right. If you have not seen Christopher's house, I'm gonna hopefully post a few pictures on the show notes, but he has done a remarkable job. I mean, every project there's so much attention to detail and it's just really a lovely, lovely house. I just I applaud you. I applaud your work, and pretty much everything you do when it comes to the old house world.
Christopher Hewitt 15:06
I think sometimes I'm too detailed. That's probably my downfall to where things get done very slowly sometimes because it has to be too perfect, but I've learned over time, nothing is completely perfect. So that helps a little bit. But I don't know, if you have kind of OCD than there's not much fix to that. Right?
Stacy Grinsfelder 15:22
Right, I do think it's really common for--there's kind of two groups of people. And then there's a few of us in the middle, who are mostly super detail oriented, but are also, you know, we kind of toe the line between--especially in blogging and writing, there is a line there between giving so much detail that it becomes overwhelming, and giving just enough detail that people can get into it and start to make those problem solving decisions on their own.
Christopher Hewitt 15:51
It's so true. You know, that's the thing catering to people that aren't really handy or DIY, versus you know, giving them information though, that okay, if you want to DIY all the way through, here's the information, but if not, you at least know the questions to ask and a little bit of the homework you need to do to ask your contractors or you set up to do the job, right?
Stacy Grinsfelder 16:11
I feel like sometimes it's just a matter of knowing what you need to ask, because, and we'll get into that later when we talk about My Old House Fix. I bet so we I feel like we could probably talk for two days about all these subjects. So probably better stick to the topic at hand. But I'm curious what was the very first project you did at your house? Just for fun? I-- well not, not for fun the project--the question is for fun. What was the first project you did at your house?
Christopher Hewitt 16:37
Um, so in was sticking with the theme of securing the envelope, it was the roof. The roof was leaking pretty bad so we did that first. And then while we were doing that, we put solar panels up on the roof to kind of help with energy efficiency.
Stacy Grinsfelder 16:49
So yeah, how's that worked? Tell me a little bit about your solar. I'm really curious, especially how it integrates into old house. The structure, you know, can you see it? Did you manage to hide it? How did that work?
Christopher Hewitt 16:59
Oh, yeah, our house sits at a pretty high elevation off the street. So you can't really see it on the side of the roof, we have a front facing house. And so the side of the roof on the south side, you can't really see it. And so it was pretty much out of the way. It's totally reversible. So that's the other thing, you can just, you know, unhook it and remove it. And it doesn't, you know, hurt the integrity of the old house. And it just basically ties into your, your utilities, and with a like a net metering, and they call it and so basically makes your meter run backwards To put it simply and you just have a second meter. And they give you a credit.
Stacy Grinsfelder 17:30
Yeah, that's great. That's great. I don't know a lot about the weather in Ann Arbor. Do you, but do you have a lot of gloomy days? Or do you have a lot of mostly sunny days?
Christopher Hewitt 17:39
Yeah, you know, it's more cloudy here, but you don't need full sun to produce at least a little bit on the newer PV panels--photovoltaic. And so, um, you know, you don't have to have direct sunlight, you know, eight hours a day, you know, that's optimum. But you can still generate a pretty good bit, I think, in 10 years, we've produced like 19 megawatts, which is not bad.
Stacy Grinsfelder 17:58
Yeah, that's great. I'm always curious about that, especially in my area. We have a lot of really cloudy days, especially in the winter. I mean, sometimes we'll take a photograph, and I'll have to tell people, that's not a black and white photograph. That's just the way the day looks today.
All right, well, let's really do just dive into My Old House Fix, because that's where I met you. And I'm really grateful to you for letting me talk about the podcast in your group. And it is, from my perspective, I'm not an admin or anything, from my perspective, it's one of the friendliest old house groups on Facebook. We do have a lot of passionate people in the old house world, a lot of very strong opinions, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel like the admin do a really admirable job of kind of keeping the the tone civil and keeping the discourse educational and productive.
Christopher Hewitt 18:57
Yeah, you know, that's one of the main things I love about our group. We have, you know, two great moderators, Doug Miller, andJohn Rodgers, they've, you know, been with us since the beginning back in like 2018. My wife, Lourdes Garcia, she helps out a lot too. And that's our biggest thing, you know, keeping it civil. I work for the Department of Defense. I'm a program manager by day trade. And so, you know, we bought this old house 12 years ago. And, you know, we I was looking for information. So I join these groups. And, you know, the internet gets a bad rap for obvious things of, you know, hate speech and all the craziness that goes on with the internet, but I would have to say, in this example, with old houses, I think the Internet has been a huge win for old houses in historic preservation. You know, I got more into the historic preservation as time went on, as we owned the house. You don't really--you did not have the level of information at your fingertips that you would, you know, 10-20-30 years ago without these old house groups, but you know, back to why My Old House Fix, you know, I was in some of these other groups. And and again, they're all great, I think they really promote fixing up these old houses. But one thing that really drove me nuts and I don't know if it's just because I'm a project manager or just trying to put things together, but you know, so you would ask somebody, Hey, how did you remodel your kitchen? And so here goes a three-foot long comment thread in a Facebook group with photos, trying to explain how they executed and planned and laid out whole, like kitchen remodel or bathroom remodel, and it was driving me nuts. As I got into more projects, I started learning more-- working with our contractors. A lot of them are like, you know, one man shows. They would let me help out and work with them. So I was picking up a lot of skills, you know, from roofing all the way down to stone masonry. And I kept, you know, and so I started contributing more to the groups and started answering the same questions over and over and over. And my wife one day, just, you know, literally said, Why don't you start a blog? You know, with your planning skills, you're a project manager, you're answering spending all this time answering the same questions over and over, why don't you start a blog and lay everything out? Because that's the, you know, the biggest pain point, I think-- having the information, because even TV shows on TV, you can get the information, but what tools do they use? What materials did they use? Why? And so we try to put all that together, I try to lay out the information, the tools, the resources to help old house owners on that main pain point.
Stacy Grinsfelder 21:27
So My Old House Fix, it's a group, it's a website, and a blog. And when did you start all of that?
Christopher Hewitt 21:34
um, that was back about 2018, spring of 2018. And so what makes our group really unique from the others is, we're not just the Facebook group, right? We're a Facebook group with tons of resources. What makes us stand out too is we have a lot of pros in the group. So you know, we keep it civil. If you can't be nice, you get the boot. We keep it civil. W try to understand. I even have, you know, posts that explain, you know, we all have to start from somewhere. So our core values are helping each other-- uplifting each other. Because we all have to start from somewhere. We don't all start as an expert in everything, right? It started with that, and we're unique in the group also having that companion website that I started. So you have the typical blogs, the the resources, and, you know, everyday we're building to make that even better, to have all the resources at your fingertips, hopefully in one spot. You know, at the end of the day, this thing is fully mature, we'll have everything in one spot for people to really have that base to go to. So you're not spending the hours I did and the pain points, just trying to gather everything that you need, just just to do something, right. That's the hardest part, right? You know, half the battle was doing the homework,
Stacy Grinsfelder 22:44
I was trying to load a, you know, industrial-sized stapler the other day, and I was thinking to myself, how do these staples go in? And I thought, can't I just pick up a stapler and put staples in and use it? And I always feel like, No, I've got to go back one more step and figure out how to put the staples in. And it's such a silly thing. But sometimes those little things can be the difference between getting started on a job and not getting started on the job. Knowing that you know, part of what you need to do, but not all of what you need to do to move forward to the first step. And the second and the third. I don't know if you ever still run into that, but I do. As much as I've done and the experience that I've had now, I still get stuck by the stapler every now and then.
Christopher Hewitt 23:29
We can't be good at everything, right? No, no. And that's what I struggle with even starting, where do you start? Because this, you know, My Old House Fix really spawned out from the group into the website, you know, and we're on YouTube, Instagram now to have like, 18,000 people in our group. That's, like 400,000 hits on YouTube. But you know, it started with, I started writing those blogs from like the homeowner perspectives of the journey I started with. And so where do we all start? You know, like the first question you ask, how did you find your house? So if you look at our three-part blog series on Home Buying tips, for example, I'll give, you know, location. So that first step is focusing on things you can't change, like the neighborhood, the school districts where the house is located, you know. Don't worry about paint. Don't worry about a bathroom you don't like, and the the step two went into the home inspection, which is your biggest point to learn your new house, get familiar with it. And that lays the groundwork for all of your planning, which I hit in part three, when you take that home inspection and draft that plan that we use to rehab your house. And so, you know, I really hit home really hard about everyone doing a home inspection, making sure you have someone that's familiar with old houses, because at that point, you can still back out so there's cheap insurance, so you don't get stuck holding the bag with a house full of termites or mold or a mess. Do you really know what you're getting into before you go to closing? Because after that, it's all on you.
Stacy Grinsfelder 24:50
That's true. Lucky you. lucky us.
Christopher Hewitt 24:52
Yes. I know. Right?
Stacy Grinsfelder 24:54
Well, that sounds like a very interesting three-part series. So maybe I can link that in the show notes too.
Christopher Hewitt 24:58
Stacy Grinsfelder 24:59
I have a question for you about what you observe in the group I actually have a couple questions. And let me be clear, this isn't about dishing dirt or anything. It's about being forthright about the pitfalls of old house ownership. So we've all made our share of mistakes, but my question is-- the first question is, based on being the admin moderator for such a large group, and you, like you said, right now it's around 18,000, what are the most common homeowner mistakes, and again, not bashing-- just something that you wish you could tell people right away so that nobody would ever make the same one again?
Christopher Hewitt 25:35
Oh, there are a lot. But I think the most common that always come up are, you know, we bought this house, it has all these problems, you know--going back to the home inspection, that's probably the biggest one, people just going in, they close, they don't know that maybe they should have done that, and so now, they're just finding things out as they fail, so they never get a good baseline of the condition of the house that they were about to purchase or purchased. Probably the second one is you rush in, you want everything to look pretty, you know. You want to run in and do a bathroom remodel, run in and do a kitchen remodel. But okay, yes, you can get that quick win, or you can get that instant gratification, but it's better to go back have that whole house plan, living in a while, see what works, see what doesn't. I mean, we had the most horrible kitchen for like seven years, to the point where we're just like, okay, we have to do something because it's like falling apart, deconstructing itself. But it told us what was working holistically in the house and what wasn't. So when we looked at planning and projects, you don't look at just one project your plan, because they all tie in together. You can remodel your kitchen, but then if you don't have the infrastructure, the wiring and everything there to support it, you're going back, you're doing rework, which costs money. So that's why you'll you'll probably hear us talk a lot about you know, an order of operations-- securing the envelope, you know, the exterior to protect your insides because you can replaster everything, but then once you have the roof put on, you know, they shake the house to pieces, when they're up on top. It feels like the house is about to fall down-- your plaster re cracks. It just brings on a host of problems if you don't do it in a certain order, you know, based on what your house is telling you that needs,
Stacy Grinsfelder 27:11
Right. And that makes sense. I liked what you said there in the beginning to about people aren't really--well, I didn't like it, but I I understand what you're saying--when people go into their house purchase, and they don't have a good baseline. So they're basically noticing all the things and you said, in your words,as they fail. So all of a sudden, you know, my foundation has this shift in it. And that you know, as it fails, my heater is out. And now I have to buy 1000, or I'm sorry, several thousand dollar HVAC system for this giant house because I didn't know that the heater was already 25 years old, or all of those things. They just keep happening. So I had a friend. She's someone I've known since she was a kid, which makes me feel really old, but she's now married and she was buying her first house and she was asking me, you know, what should I do? What should I know? And you know, I don't know what she expected me to tell her but I was like know whether you have a septic or city sewer. Know when it was last inspected. Check your roof. If you buy a house with a complicated roofline, it's gonna be really expensive to fix. Look at your foundation, I was going, I felt like my dad, I'll tell you what. I felt like my dad, and I was honored that I got a chance to give that information to her. I don't know if she took all of it to heart, but hopefully some at least
Christopher Hewitt 28:29
Yeah, there was a good point. So it's, it's, it's all about expectation management. We talk about that, you know, in my day job at work, you know. We do a lot of things, logistics when it comes down to expectation management. If you go in knowing that you're going to need to do certain things. It's better to know that up front, and you know, versus just, you know, when things start failing, and because once you become to resent the house, it's kind of a bad position for everyone. And we'll even tell people in the group, you know, they're like, hey--one came up a few days ago-- I bought this house, we're just we're over it. We got in over our heads. We didn't know what we're doing, and we'll tell them hey, you know, if you're feeling that bad, then maybe you should sell it. You know, maybe-- because it's not for everybody, you know?
Stacy Grinsfelder 29:09
Right. That was a heartbreaking question. I saw that one. Yeah, I just I really felt for her. And I don't know, I'm a big softy anyway. And I just really, I really felt for her in that. And it just, it's a big project, and they were clearly really overwhelmed.
Christopher Hewitt 29:24
It's--we get overwhelmed even going in knowing a lot of things because even on a good day, it's hard a lot of days, right? We just get-- all of us we get buried sometimes. We just need to take a break and walk away and go take a vacation and come back and refresh you know?
Stacy Grinsfelder 29:37
Definitely. Yeah. And I recently had my own little crisis of faith that I outlined on my blog, and you're right there sending me
Christopher Hewitt 29:44
Love it or List it.
Stacy Grinsfelder 29:44
Exactly. I wrote a blog post about it, which I'll link, but you were so thoughtful and sent me a DM and you told me that we've all been there. We've all been there. So it doesn't really matter how long we've been in the thick of this old house life. Sometimes, you've just had enough. I've just had enough.
Christopher Hewitt 30:01
We're all rowing the same boat.
Stacy Grinsfelder 30:03
Christopher Hewitt 30:04
That's why we have to help each other. You know, that's it. And that's why I love these groups, because we're here to lift each other up and help each other and, you know, not beat each other down. And yeah, okay, if someone does something, it's not the right way. And you can say it in a way, though, that's, you know--What we enforce in the group too, is, you can say, you know, No, you're not stupid for doing this, but hey, maybe you could have done it this way.
Stacy Grinsfelder 30:22
Mm hmm. Right. I like how the group really encourages the positive spin on language, rather than just like you said, saying someone's stupid. And I know that some people aren't into that diplomatic way of-- they just want to be able to shoot from the hip and tell them what they're thinking.
Christopher Hewitt 30:40
Stacy Grinsfelder 30:41
Civility goes a long way.
Christopher Hewitt 30:43
It does. And I think, what is it like once a month on rotation, I have a post now. It's My Old House Fix core values. Like I said earlier, you know, it's, we all start somewhere, uplift. So I think that that's a helpful reminder. Where, you know, a lot of other groups don't have like, you know, I guess we have like a content calendar in a way. You know, regularly scheduled, you know, information. And so, I think that keeps it in the forefront in people's mind. So it helps the overall mood, and I think it just helps everyone stay positive, you know,
Stacy Grinsfelder 31:12
and you do have some, not just those kinds of things, but you have some other themes. Tell me some of those you had, I think, floor hardwood floor Friday, you had like a bunch of themes. What are some of those just an example?
Christopher Hewitt 31:25
Yeah, so we have, you know, maintenance Mondays, we can talk about your maintenance type issues, you know-- Tuesdays tile Tuesdays, Tuesdays, yeah, they, they differ just to keep it from being the same content all the time. But, you know, just just try to bring up those theme days to talk about some of the hot issues and some of the most common issues that come up. So it's a forum to show up and address some of those issues there. Sometimes just something favorite about your house, you know--your most favorite feature about your house, or, you know, before and after pictures. I think that helps, you know, kind of bring together people on a common topic and hit that on one day and, and bring a lot of information to the table.
Stacy Grinsfelder 32:03
What's your favorite theme? Which one do you enjoy putting out there the most and seeing the responses?
Christopher Hewitt 32:09
I think, like, I don't know, the Trades Tuesday, or like the Window Pro Wednesdays. Yeah, I like that, you know--I guess it's going back to my vocational school and trade school type days, you know. I do feel that we're losing a lot of the old trades, you know, the stone masonry and your plaster work. And so I really like to promote those trades. And that's why we have a lot of the old house pros in our group, you know--a lot of window guys, window pros, window gals from all over. I think it just helps promote those trades, and if we don't pass on information on that, you know, we're going to lose it one day. And so I'm really, I think, a proponent of that, you know, the historic preservation more of-- I kind of dove deeper into that, just with my vocational background, too. I guess I'm kind of partial to the trades, you know,
Stacy Grinsfelder 32:56
I'm right there with you. I get it. So another question about the group are based on what you see in there. What are the top old house homeowner issues? And you're not allowed to say What color should I paint my house?
Christopher Hewitt 33:11
Top old house issues? Um, you know, where do I start? You know, because we do you know--Another way we vet people and the internet trolls and fake accounts, we do ask a series of questions when you join. Um, so we know that everyone in the group is definitely old house owners or lovers, right? So one big one is you know, where do I start? and that's our whole tagline is preparing you to repair and restore your own house. So you know, that goes back to all the planning and all the you know, everything from maintenance tips that we give. I give seasonal maintenance checklist. So that kind of helps you know, for the basics, you know, some of the questions we get a lot probably the some of the top ones are you know, how to preserve old house character. Now, how do I update, but also stay in keep that old house charm you character, right? So, I've got a few YouTube videos on that. And, you know, that basically comes down to a lot of just small details, you know, it's um, you know, trim pieces, picture rail, finishes, Chrome versus nickel plating. It's a, you know, a lot of small details add up to really make a difference in your own house rehab. If you have vinyl windows, okay, fine. Like we inherited vinyl windows here. I'm not ashamed to admit it. One day, hopefully when the rest of house is fixed, whenever that is, I may go back and you know, convert those back but so for now, okay, fine. We did wooden storm windows on the outside-- repurposed wavy glass. So from outside, it looks perfectly like it did 100 years ago.
Stacy Grinsfelder 34:39
I bet that looks beautiful. That's such a great alternative to simply just having your vinyl windows. I love that idea.
Christopher Hewitt 34:46
And triple pane glass so they can I help the street noise and everything too.
Stacy Grinsfelder 34:49
right. That's true. That is true. So on a personal level, you talked about preparing to do each job. I want to know and I've asked this question or variations of it a lot this season to a lot of people that I've talked to, because I do love to hear the answers from a lot of longtime DIYers and professionals, but how do you begin each project? Do you always follow the same general pattern or routine? Or is it different? Having this conversation with you, I think I know the answer to this, but I would love to know what how you plan each project. So say you're going to start something new.
Christopher Hewitt 35:24
So with starting something new, I base it all off of, you know, kind of that original home inspection that we had. So that laid out, you know-- if you already have a lot of your mechanicals everything in place. So you want to start with a baseline, making sure that you have all those critical items in place. So, you know, if you're doing a kitchen, you're already there, hopefully. You have all most electrical and all the infrastructure put in, but if it's, you're just starting out, yeah, you're going back and making sure that you're going in that proper order. But I start with, you know, brainstorming and doing your homework. So whether it's figuring out how many electrical circuits you need to put in your kitchen remodel, or what type of mortar to use on your stone porch, it's doing your homework, so you know, when contractor show up, or when you get ready to do it. Remember, gathering the info, you're doing your homework, I'll lay out just like brainstorming and like bullet points and start putting a plan together. If it's a bathroom or kitchen, you know, I'll use $100 design program software to mock it up, because I do think you'll hear a lot of people that remodel any house, and they're showing around their house. And we've all heard it, Hey, we just remodeled our kitchen and our bathroom or the whole house, but you know, we don't like this, we have to go change that we have to redo this. You don't want to do that, right? That's money and work that you have to go back and do again. So try to get it right the first time. Try to think about how everything is going to integrate together. So whether it's the whole house, or even in one room. For example, we wanted to remodel a bathroom, and knowing we didn't have air conditioning ye, and that was a goal, while we had one of the walls open in the bathroom, we were able to run cold air returns from the attic, down through to the first floor through that wall. And so basically, we timed it at a point where you're holistically looking at our projects. If you look at our house, you can't tell that it wasn't built without air conditioning. So it's those details, you know, versus having to come in and put soffits everywhere and box everything in it looks horrible, right? So it's making sure that all that works. And even in that room in that bathroom, right? You know, do things work together. So knowing what products you want to use, how they're going to fit together, how they're going to integrate and how they're all going to work. Because even like in a kitchen remodel, you get down to something in the corner of two cabinets, something like cabinet hardware, if it sticks out two inches or one inch, you may have interferences when those two drawers open from each side and they intersect. I know that because I ended up on between two drawers. And you don't want them to bang in each other and get your new cabinetry up. So it's just like I said, it goes back to those small details that add up to really make a space function. And part of is you know, living in the house. Like I said before, knowing your house live in it, you know, learn from it, you know what's working, what's not. So take that. I'll take like a pros and cons list. What are the goals? What are our likes and dislikes and kind of just playing off of that, you know,
Stacy Grinsfelder 38:19
Right. Do you ever use contractors or calling contractors for certain jobs?
Christopher Hewitt 38:24
Oh, yeah, um, you know, like, we had the whole house rewired. So I called an electrician for that, you know. I did do my own in the kitchen, based off what I had learned. So I did call an electrician to inspect it in stages, make sure it meets code. You know, those are some options you can do to save money. I'll pull on wires pulling wire, right? But it still has to meet code so you can have someone come in and do that turnkey or you know, you can have it inspected in stages. It meets code it's fine, but I'm roofing I don't really do roofing, chimney repairs, things like that. I don't mind getting on our roof but like a full roof tear off with just one person, you really need to crew for that. You know, I've called contractors to help out with some painting even though I do a lot of my own painting. It just varies whatever I'm trying to get done. You know, at that point, or for whatever year. With stone masonry, I didn't know everything about it so I called the stonemason. He basically let me work beside him. I was kind of his labor helper. But you know, I learned from that too. And so, you know, he had expertise that I didn't. And it's just a combination of both. I think it's all all of us recognizing what our skills are, and where to draw that line when they call in the pros, because there's no shame in calling a pro at any point because we can't all be experts in everything. And I think that's what we kind of lose along the way. It's okay to not know something.
Stacy Grinsfelder 39:42
Sure. So, in working with contractors, I think this might-- I-- this is kind of a spur of the moment question I haven't we haven't talked about this or anything but when you're working with contractors, sometimes at least when I am-- when I hire someone, and then I feel very good about what they're going to do, but then I still have to come from an educational standpoint and kind of hold my ground about some things that I want to do. So I found that in my kitchen, you know, they didn't want to do the trim a certain way, and I was like, you know, No, this is how we're going to do the trim. Now, I'm saying this very rudely on the podcast, and I assure you that I'm a diplomatic but direct person. And how do you navigate that? I don't know if this, honestly is a thing that happens more to women, or if it also happens to men who hire contractors, when the contractor wants to do the sort of bait and switch? How do you handle that?
Christopher Hewitt 40:34
It's you know, that's that struggle. I've found at least is across the board, whether you're female or male and know nothing, or even if you've done your homework and show up, you know, every contractor is different. I think it goes back to expectation management. Everybody has a way of doing something and a way that they're comfortable with, for example, I have never laid marble tile in our bathroom. So I hired that out. I can do tile, but I didn't want to mess up expensive marble that we put down the Schluter system or that's what I wanted is waterproofing in the shower. Well, that one particular contractor had never done that before the Schluter system. So he was uncomfortable doing it didn't want to do it. And I don't want the spray membranes they put down because just like caulk, they can shrink crack over time and leak. So I had to find another contractor to kind of hand off the shower to that would do that. And then the other contractor did kind of the main area, but it's you know, everybody has something they're comfortable with even. That's what drove me to kind of look at the process for painting the exterior of your house. I watched a lot of houses in our neighborhood to be painted for 5-6-7 years, they would start peeling A few years later, John Leeke, a great preservationist has this process where when you strip it to bare wood, you do a pre treatment. The wood is dry, it's old, it's thirsty, it needs this pre treatment to help the paint stick and bond a lot better and treat that dry wood so it doesn't suck all the oil out of the primer. Well, painters, you know, they slap on the primer they put on the paint. A lot of painters didn't want to do that. So that drove me to kind of do that myself. Some electricians even want to trench your walls to run wiring. And I was like, No, you're not trenching, my plaster walls, cutting big trenches in them, because it's easier for you. So I think the biggest thing at the end of the day, what I always tell everyone is do your homework. Look at different options. So trenching walls, maybe you have a plumbing stack that runs from your basement to attic. Hey, guess what, that's what we did in our house. And we ran everything in there didn't have to cut anything. It's no small access holes here and there. So I think at the end of the day, it's really expectation management, communicating, because contractors can't read minds either. So we all know what we want, but we have to communicate that to contractors, because they're not mind reader's. They're human just like you and I, but they're also comfortable and doing things a certain way. And they may not want to go outside that comfort zone to do exactly what you want to do. So it may be a little bit painful, but at the end of the day, you're the customer, and you have to live with the work that is being done. And I think it's better to get what you want. Because you have to live with the results. The contractor doesn't. Once you pay them, they're gone, and so if they cut a corner or something that's not going to last or something that's not quality, you have to live with that not the contractor. So that's always tell everyone that and to make sure that they're coming from that perspective.
Stacy Grinsfelder 43:16
Absolutely. That's great, great tip. All right. So why don't you go ahead and tell everyone where they can find you and the group. So let's just repeat all that it's going to be in the show notes. But go ahead and tell us. Okay, yeah.
Christopher Hewitt 43:28
So if you're looking to have a resource to prepare you to repair, restore your old house, go to www.MyOldHouseFix.com. We're on facebook-- facebook page, join our Facebook group. We're on Instagram, YouTube, and we're currently working on some awesome new stuff. If you like the information and the resources we've put out so far, and we have, you're really gonna like some new stuff that we're working on and maybe we can talk about that on a part two or something. But um, yeah, we're working to just put all these resources together. We- we even have a couple new products out to help you strip paint and things kind of a COVID invention I came up with the infrared rack kit. And so if you like what we have so far, stay tuned because we have a lot better stuff coming down the pipe. And I think you guys are really gonna love it.
Stacy Grinsfelder 44:13
Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here, Christopher.
Christopher Hewitt 44:16
I love your podcasts. It's always feel like I'm listening to NPR. It's they're always so great, informative. And I just like listening to them. They're great.
Stacy Grinsfelder 44:24
Wow, thank you. You know how to pay me a compliment. I appreciate that. NPR is always kind of that upper threshold. If I can sound like Terry Gross, the Terry Gross of the old house world then, you know, I've got a long way to go but I'll keep working towards it.
Christopher Hewitt 44:39
Yeah, and if you get up this way, this fall or something always come by we'll show you around the neighborhood, maybe go to some cider mills and show you some old house stuff on site.
Stacy Grinsfelder 44:47
That would thrill me I would love to meet you in person and of course always catch up with Ann Arbor Go Blue.
Christopher Hewitt 44:54
I'm sure we can find some paints to strip, Roll Tide.
Stacy Grinsfelder 44:58
I might be busy. I might not be able to do paint stripping.
Christopher Hewitt 45:02
We'll just go eat.
Stacy Grinsfelder 45:03
Yeah, sounds good. Thank you.
Christopher Hewitt 45:05
Thank you, Stacy
Stacy Grinsfelder 45:05
Thank you for listening to today's episode. To continue the conversation, follow True Tales From Old Houses and Blake Hill House on Facebook and Instagram. And for more information about this episode, including show notes and transcripts and to sign up for the monthly newsletter, visit TrueTalesFromOldHouses.com. Until next time,