Save Your Sanity, Learn Your Building

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A while back, I mentioned my project installing a bathroom ceiling fan as an example of something automated systems wouldn’t help with – a dirty, uncomfortable job I had to do myself.

That doesn’t mean the job had to be nearly as difficult as it was.  I could have saved a huge amount of time if I had taken some steps to learn the building beforehand.

A Hugely Annoying Day

Like most bathroom ceiling fans, the Broan 678 actually attaches to ceiling joists.  This means that to install it, you really want to work from above.  It’s pretty darned difficult in a building like mine because there is no easy access to the attic.  I knew of three possibilities:

  1. I could remove some of the suspended ceiling panels in the kitchen or living room, get my body up there, and work my way over to the area over the bathroom.  (The bathroom did not have a suspended ceiling, as most don’t, because suspended ceiling tiles are not very water-resistant.)
  2. I could work from the roof down.  The good news was that the apartment was on the top floor and there was a roof hatch.  The bad news was that getting to the roof would be a chore – I didn’t have a ladder that could reach it from the street.
  3. I could cut into the drywall around the ceiling fan, thereby making an opening big enough to take out the old ceiling fan and put in a new one.  This was my least favorite option because it was the most complicated and time-consuming.

The first option was my favorite, so I brought out my stepladder and started working my way around, taking out ceiling panels one by one, looking for a path to the bathroom area.  No path was to be found.  The previous owner (PO), or the one before that (PO-1), or somebody had thoughtfully partitioned off the entire attic with vertical wallboard panels.  I’m not sure why he did this, but it may have been for fire suppression.

(Up until 1977, my two story building was a three-story building.  The third story had been gutted in a fire and simply removed.  Nobody, including me, wants it to become a one-story building.)

So much for the first option, on to the second.  I got out my Multimatic ladder and went through an elaborate process to lift it up to the second-floor fire escape platform.  All the while I was imagining elaborate disasters with falling ladders, with or without me on them.

In the end, however, the ladder did make it up to the fire escape, I made it up the ladder to the roof, and over to the hatch.  I opened the hatch and discovered another huge challenge.  PO, PO-1, or somebody had built a nice little room under the hatch, again with vertical wallboard panels.  The only thing I could do with the hatch was climb down it into the little room, presumably eventually falling down through a suspended ceiling panel or two on to the second floor and breaking at least a few bones.  (Bear in mind I had already cheated death once with the ladder and would have to do so again to get off the roof.)

So much for the second option.  It was now time to start working from the bathroom itself, cutting around the drywall surrounding the ceiling fan, and so on.  That’s what I did, anyway.  It was in the midst of that project that I made my one smart move.  After installing the new ceiling fan, but before replacing the drywall I had cut away, I tested the new fan to make sure it worked.

Had I not done so – had I installed the fan, replaced the drywall with all that entails (cutting a new piece, putting up backing boards, screwing the new piece on, filling, sanding, and painting), and then found out it didn’t work – I would have climbed back out onto the fire escape, ignored the useless ladder, and done a swan dive on to the payment.  My children would now be fatherless.

Anyway, the ceiling fan went in, the drywall was repaired, a new tenant has since moved in, and life is good.  Of course I did waste a heck of a lot of time with Options #1 and #2.  The next time a bathroom ceiling fan fails, I’ll move right on to #3.

My serious point

Like most BP posters, I have a lot going on in my life, and really can’t afford to waste a lot of time on what should be simple repair jobs.  I would have saved a ton of time if I had just learned the building before the repair was necessary.

I’ve owned the place for almost six years.  That’s plenty of time to have checked it out thoroughly.  I could have opened that hatch on some previous day when I was up there and had time to poke around.  I could have checked out the attic space on that same or some other day.  After learning the building (and there’s lots more to learn, these are just examples), every future repair job that involved those areas would have gone much more quickly, with less stress and aggravation.

So here’s my challenge for you – how well do you know your building(s)?

Photo Credit: / CC BY 2.0

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  1. I may have missed why you would have fallen through the roof. Weren’t you up there already? Why would option 3 have caused you to fall to your doom if you had to go back?

    The advice on the post is great, but I don’t get the falling part.

  2. Fallen through the suspended ceiling. There was nothing structural under the hatch, just the simple metal framing for the suspended ceiling.

    If I had installed the whole ceiling fan and it hadn’t worked, I would have been so frustrated that I would have jumped to my doom. But, it did!

  3. I feel your pain here, almost on a daily basis. Very few property owners (and even fewer home owners) know their properties, the nuances, and the pitfalls. I would love it if people we’re more in tune with their property before they need any work done, but I guess people don’t react unless their is a problem.

    Glad it all worked out for you.

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