Doug Lewandowski column: Hotshot knows when to call in the pros

Many of the homes we’ve owned needed retrofitting and updating.

I used to think I was kind of a hotshot when it came to fixing things around the house. We’re on our fourth home now after 47 years of marriage (apartments don’t count).

In new construction, if you’re the builder or act as a general construction manager, you become intimately acquainted with where the wires run for electricity and pipes go for the water supply. Many of the homes we’ve owned needed retrofitting and updating. Most of it was easy, but some of the projects were a challenge that required a lot more experience than I had — a lot.

Most of the houses were old or timeworn dwellings with lots of quirks but functional construction based on what was available for building at the time. Many of them had been remodeled, some of it very well done, but others made you wonder, “What the heck were they doing?”

The best example of this was a sauna in a basement built around the main fuse box for the house. After a few years living there, I turned the sauna into a pantry, a much more practical and safer use that assured there would be no baking of the wires running to various parts of the residence.

Another home’s bones were good and had a lake view, but the windows in the bedrooms were the size of portholes. So we tackled replacements. This required stripping off siding and using a Sawzall to cut a larger space for new double-hungs in a supporting wall, a very scary process. It actually went quite well.


Part of the job required a large I-beam be placed atop some sturdy two-by-fours to support the roof. I cannot count the number of times I measured, remeasured and then measured again, to make sure I had the correct length before I went to the steel fabricators to get the span. On this part of the project, my wife helped me lift the header into place, not without some cussing on my part, however.

The next day, with the help of some friends and a skyjack scissors lift, two large windows were raised into place and carefully fitted into the wall of the bedroom. It helps to have friends with remodeling experience. My wife’s comment about the process was, “How come you don’t swear near them as much as you do around me?” I plead the fifth.

This is not to say we didn’t work together well. After all, we did add a 10-foot addition to our two-car garage that would accommodate a shop, including putting up a 19-foot side wall, rafters and roof sheeting. This is a strong woman! Never mind we both crawled into the house after dark, wiped out by our labors, beers and hot tub a priority.

After moving to Duluth and choosing another older home, we decided to replace some of the windows in the bedroom. I could do this!

This job again necessitated the use of the Sawzall. Unfortunately, in the process, I cut a wire in the wall that fed electricity to part of our bedroom. I could not figure out why the alarm clock didn’t work. After a year of running an extension cord, I finally called in an electrician who quickly figured out what I’d done. He fixed it, and the bill is coming.

Most of my home repairs have worked out OK but I have learned — yes, I have learned, that as I’ve gotten older, I need to call in a professional before I screw something up and it costs twice as much to fix. I give up — ain’t gonna tackle hanging a new ceiling in the garage and blowing in insulation for another shop. Time to call the professionals.

Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and licensed psychologist. Write to him at


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Doug Lewandowski

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