14 becoming 56

No surprise that the paradigm of restoration here at 118 Henry Street has a strong scent of Luddism. This is true and, at the same time, not so true. Technological advancement is close to the core of our culture and has, no doubt, propelled humanity to the top of the food chain. The question, “Can it be done?” has pushed, driven, and expressed more improvement and quality in human lives than any other single reflection. I strongly believe and apply the notion that we will exceed what has been done with what can be done. For the most part, this is a very good thing.

In the case of old house remodeling, and, in the world of technology, the question “Can it be done?” might, perhaps, be swiftly followed by “Should it be done?”. A cracked plaster wall should not automatically lead to demolition and drywall. Success in cloning a (single) sheep should not automatically lead to the attempt to clone humans. Yet other decisions are not so clouded. Cast iron water pipes should be upgraded to copper and new drug trials should continue. It’s in this demilitarized zone of technology that the Luddite in me dwells.

This past week has given me 2 good examples of the appropriate use of technology in old house restoration. Of course, the same week has given me the usual number of vexing decisions in the application of the restoration paradigm.

Good Example No. 1: Jower’s Appliances in Clayton, Georgia aka AntiqueAppliances.com.
Thursday thru Saturday of last week, Carole, DeShawn, and I took a mini-holiday in the mountains of northern Georgia. Approximately 3 hours away by car, this most southern part of the Appalachians is a dream for folks wanting to go to the uplands but avoid the over-commercialization of North Carolina’s high country. We spent most of our time hiking and mining for staurolite (see link to the Hackney Farm). But while in the town of Clayton, we ate lunch at a local lunch spot, not much bigger than the back room of my house. When finished eating, we walked across the street to Jower’s.

John Jowers and crew restore old refrigerators and cooking stoves. They can take an old appliance that looks completely irrepairable and make it fully functional again. Their showroom was jammed packed with wonderful examples of their abilities. By replacing materials such as insulation and wiring with modern equivalents and using the latest techniques in metal plating, they use technology to preserve history. Not surprisingly, they do their magic in a socially sensitive way, helping to preserve their way of life in Clayton.

Good Example No. 2: Rotating Laser Level.
Even after all the measurements and diagrams of the upstairs west bedroom, I rented this piece of technological magic this Saturday past to make sure my plan for correcting the uneven ceiling started properly. The apparently simple function provided by the marvel of high technology is an old house worker’s dream: an absolute reference for measurements. Within 20 minutes of opening the carrying case, it was set up, turned on, and there was a perfectly level horizontal line projected in red around the entire perimeter of the room at head height. Absolutely astounding!

Within an hour of opening of the carrying case, I was able to make 20 or so measurements that completely defined the planar geometry of the ceiling and the relative window heights. My previous investigations into the mathematical wonderland of the west bedroom took over 2 hours and over 50 measurements. Interestingly, measuring from the laser line revealed a logic flaw in the prior data. There is a slight, but significant difference in the height of the windows. All in all, the laser level is technology well done and has the 118 Henry Street seal of approval.

Now if I can just figure out how to shim the drywall….