What, Exactly, is Going on Here?

Marge: What do you think he’s doing up there?
Homer: I don’t know. Drug lab? Or reading comic books. What am I, Kreskin? You tell me what he’s doing.
Marge: I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. And I’m going to find out.

– The Simpsons

As part of our organization project (whereby everything we own that we aren’t currently using will be labeled and archived in storage bins), I’ve been running across a fair number of weird things.

This pair of shorts:

coke shorts

This doll:

nancy doll

And, to my delight, the flyer from when our house was for sale:

house flyer

That orange newspaper box was the first thing to go — and fancy using “proximity to the airport” as a selling point! Here’s the house from the same angle now:


Better. Other than the roof. But we’ve done so much that it feels like it should be more dramatic. And there’s still so much to do (see, e.g., ROOF).

When we talk about our DIY adventures, we usually say we are “fixing up” or “working on” the house. As with most fields of endeavour, however, there is a very specific vocabulary for home improvement work. It helps to know the difference when talking with builders, other DIYers, or precision linguists.

Contractor projects are often termed “renovations” or “remodels”, but these terms aren’t entirely interchangeable. A remodel might include some renovation, but not the other way around.

  • renovation replaces existing materials and finishes with new (or like-new) items. New drywall can be a renovation, but so can swapping out your switch plates.
  • A remodel involves a change to the existing model for a space. This process might include changing the use of a room or the floor plan. Creating an open concept great room where there used to several walls requires remodeling.

If you are working on an old house, there are even more terms to keep straight. The Department of the Interior uses the following definitions for work on historic properties:

  • Preservation focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time.
  • Restoration depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods.
  • Reconstruction re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes [not really applicable here!].
  • Rehabilitation acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character.

(Four Approaches to the Treatment of Historic Properties)

We live in an old house, but it’s not historic — no blue plaques for Chez D’oh, unless it were something like this:


Preservation, restoration, and reconstruction are all beyond the budget and willingness of most homeowners, emphatically including the Kev and me. Our position on the house is that we love its character, we respect its materials and style, but we live in it today. This house, like its people, evolves over time while still being recognizably itself.


Evolutionary changes visible here (off the top of my head): 1. Built fence; 2. Replaced storm windows; 3. Removed antenna, tuckpointed chimney; 4. Added exterior light, house numbers, doorbell; 5. Limbed trees; 6. Built front retaining wall (side added by neighbors); 7. Levelled porch; 8. Replaced step railings; 9. Replaced steps; 10. Replaced porch door; 11. Updated trim color; 12. Landscaped; 13. Added new porch windows; 14. Replaced gutters and downspouts; 15. Repainted (twice); 16. Insulated piano windows; 17. Added glass block bathroom window; 18. Updated bathroom ventilation

Even though much has happened, major projects remain — a house is never done!


!!!!!: Replace roof, and soon; !!!: Figure out siding “strategy”; !: Replace step railings with wood

While some of what we do has a restoration or preservation bent, this is clearly no museum! The closest fit for our approach is rehabilitation, perhaps? Both renovation and remodeling certainly play a part. While it’s useful to know the terms and to have a concept for where we’re headed, I’m just going to keep saying we’re “fixing up” this house…albeit very slowly.

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