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Jack Smith

Ol' Place Needs Bit More Than a Coat of Paint

February 17, 1988|Jack Smith

It came to me the other day with a small stab of pain that our house is growing old. I realized what that implied.

I discovered that the pipes to the toilet in my bathroom were leaking, and had evidently been leaking for some time. I also discovered that the taps over my wash basin were leaking. Only a few months ago I had replaced my wife's toilet for $500 and our water heater for $600.

None of these were the original fixtures. All had been installed during some remodeling or other only a few years ago.

The plastic housing that connects the electric fan in my bathroom to the ceiling had shattered, evidently in the October earthquake, when we were abroad. Our sitter had made a small pile of the pieces on my bureau, but left no explanation in his note.

The kitchen sink had long since been replaced. We had had a new roof put on years ago, and it leaks. Both our bedroom ceilings are stained.

Reluctantly I called the Pat Connor company. Pat Connor had been our plumber since we bought the house. He is no longer living, but his company has been taken over by younger people. "We'll be there Tuesday," Jim said.

On Tuesday a new man came. "I'm John," he said. He wanted to know what the trouble was. I told him. He fixed the toilet leak in a $60 jiffy.

"It's OK now," he said, "but sooner or later you're going to have to go to copper."

"What do you mean," I said uneasily, " 'go to copper'?"

"How old's your house?"

I thought back. We had bought it in 1950. It was merely a frame of 2x4s. I had seen an ad in the paper. New two-bedroom houses on the GI Bill. The location was Mt. Washington. I had lived in the neighborhood when I was a boy, but I had forgotten the name.

I found it on the map. We drove up the hill and found a row of houses being framed in near the top. I liked the location. We favored the first house, on the corner. The foreman sent us down the hill to a real estate office on York Boulevard. I bought ice cream cones for my wife and our two small boys to eat while they waited in the car.

To my surprise, I found that the price was only $8,425, and only about $150 down. All I needed to tie it up was $25. I didn't have $25 in the bank. It was Saturday. I wrote a check and borrowed the money before Monday.

The house was ours.

Over the years we have almost doubled it in size, adding a garage and a swimming pool and buying an acre of canyon in the back.

"Our house is 38 years old," I told the plumber incredulously.

"What I thought," he said. "You've got galvanized iron plumbing and it's about to go. Going to cause a lot of trouble. You ought to put in copper all around."

"You mean everywhere," I asked, " . . . underneath?"

He rocked the toilet back and forth. "See?" he said. "Your plywood, under the linoleum, is already gone. Rotted out. Sooner or later you'll have to replace it. You got a nice house here. You ought to take care of it."

I wondered how much copper would cost. He said it shouldn't run more than than $2,500 to $3,500. I told him I'd think it over. He installed a fancy new single-faucet tap over the wash basin for about $200.

I have called a linoleum man and asked him to put in a new sub floor and new linoleum. I am going to replace the ceiling fan. Get the roof fixed. Maybe go to copper, too. I hate to spend all that money. I am a great believer in the maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But I don't want to be my own slumlord.

It has been a good house. It has served us well. And at today's prices it's worth a lot more money than we've put into it. I might as well provide for its future.

After all, I had my own pipes replaced a few years ago. If a thing's worth living in, it's worth caring for.

All the same, I feel something like the man who planted a lime tree knowing he'd never see it bear fruit.

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