30 Sep Why I’m Back in School


I’m at night school this semester, taking a class at Catonsville Community College so that, come January, I can become a licensed House Inspector. You may ask why I would do such a thing. Two reasons: I’m crazy for house renovation, which means that I’m crazy for houses, and I want to know all about the subject. Visit the website Jill and I run —Houselove.org — and you’ll see what a big part of our lives the whole house thing is.

The other reasons is that I want street cred. as a home repair expert so that when I tour the country next summer — talking up my book, From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story — I can speak as more than a DIY guy. Mind you, I like being a DIY guy, but I’ve learned from making how-to videos for Youtube that there’s always some smart-aleck who will call you out on one detail or another.

The smart alecks can be quite mean, and sometimes inexplicably so, as when a viewer posts “LOL” or “WTF” under your earnest, hard-working video about stripping paint or sanding a floor.

I”m learning a lot in class. Like the difference between a joist and a beam, why cantelievered balconies are a problem, and how to keep a basement dry. The great thing about being a house inspector is that I can point out the problems but I don’t have to fix them. Most of my classmates are from the buildng trade themselves. They’re either looking for supplemental work or looking to get out of building because of their bad backs. Needless to say, everybody in the class is middle aged. The most surprising thing about the course is that the people I thought wouldn’t make good home inspectors — like the woman who has a new and different hair-do every week and the little guy who sees disaster in every scenario — are turning out to be pretty conscientious. They’re doing their homework and seem to be catching on.

Am I catching on? Sure, but it’s humbling, there’s so much I don’t know. Did you know that, until 1971, there were NO building codes in the U.S.A.? You could pretty much bulld anything you wanted any way you wanted. Oh, there were professional standards, supposedly, but, as with any business, lots of builders cut corners to make a buck. That’s something to think about when you buy an older home. Codes are really stringent now. But old houses don’t have to meet these codes. That’s why the home inspector is much needed: he or she can tell you, at least, what’s going on with your house before you buy it.

This week we’re studying roofs. I’ve gotten in the habit of gaping at buildings when I’m driving. “See that roof line, how it sags?” I’ll say. Or: “Whoah, look at that house — water damage!” Jill is showing tremendous patience about this.¬†She assumes that I’ll settle down soon enough. But there is every possibility that I may not.