Remember back in high school, maybe your biology class, when you learned about ‘entropy’? Don’t remember? Ugh, I know. Refresher: entropy is a fancy scientific word describing when a thing/system/compound is not fully organized/not balanced/becoming increasingly disordered. For example, I think we can all agree that our national political discourse displays increasing entropy. Yikes, now I’ve done it, hide from the trolls!

For us old house rehabbers, entropy comes in the form of rust, rot, spongy trim, sagging bricks, damp mossy basements—you get the idea. Maddeningly, rehab entropy seems to frequently attack stuff I’ve long ago fixed and assumed (!) was dealt with. And boy, this spring has presented plenty of same. 

When I went up on my house’s roof (what a view from up there!) to clean out the leaves, sweetgum balls, etc. from the gutters, I discovered that winter winds had torn off a number of shingles from the dormers. I found some of the pieces, but other pieces were just gone.

D’oh, more entropy! Here is the deteriorating dummy door of our carriage house. Harsh environment, to be sure. Failed caulk and paint, cracked wood, and this was just painted (again!) like five years ago. So, do I repair—again---or replace? And what’s with the loose brick?!

D’oh, more entropy! Here is the deteriorating dummy door of our carriage house. Harsh environment, to be sure. Failed caulk and paint, cracked wood, and this was just painted (again!) like five years ago. So, do I repair—again---or replace? And what’s with the loose brick?!

Then my wife smelled something nasty under the unrenovated kitchen sink. Nope, not field mice this time. Instead—and worse—I discovered that the sink’s brass drain pipes, which have to be 60 years old, had oxidized to the point that several holes had formed. Grey water was drizzling everywhere. Lovely. Yep, my brass pipes had rusted through—I did not know that was even possible!

Yet another entropic example: our master bathroom window sash’s bottom rail—please know this is a replacement window less than 20 years old—has ‘dry rot’ via some unpronounceable fungus, and will soon have the structural strength of compost. Sigh.

You’ll (maybe) remember from your bio class that the elements and living things all around us actively encourage entropy. This is how material in nature gets “recycled”, like fallen trees in the forest get digested and converted into new soil. The sun has its UV rays to fade and break down all sorts of stuff. Raindrops find the most microscopic crack in your glazing/caulking/paint job, to wet and soften up (for subsequent invasion) the underlying substrate. The oxygen we all crave loves to, well, oxidize anything metallic or carbon-based (uh oh). And creatures—from microbes to termites to wood ants—enjoy cellulose: our joists, rafters, and pretty trim are their delectable treats.

So here I go, fighting old-house entropy…I reattached the loose shingles with liberal wads of roofing cement. I replaced the dying brass pipes with temporary plastic, until we finally (!) rehab our kitchen. The bathroom window remains to be dealt with—replace just the bottom rail or replace the whole sash? In general, I have been doing so much of this kind of maintenance and repair that I have had little time for the big-picture effort of actually finishing the rehab of the %@&! house.

The final straw, so to speak, is the annoying daily experience of advancing age, in the guise of creaking joints and slipping strength and stamina. The middle-aged bod is undergoing entropy too, I guess. On the other hand, they say that while aging can be a beach, the alternative is even worse.

It is with that thought that I spackle/glue/tighten/caulk/paint on. And maybe I’ll even get to some new, fresh work too. I made the commitment, took the pledge, drank the Kool-Aid, you know. I hereby declare that I am going to finish the renovation of this kicking and screaming pile of bricks if it kills me!! Wish me luck, and pass the wine.



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