DIY Tales. Or, "The Vent Hood, the Roof, and the Rattling Chimney."

This post has nothing to do with gardening, food, or pleasant vacations near large bodies of water. It is a post about what can happen with a house on the heels of what seems like a perfectly good idea on the heels of what seemed like another perfectly good idea. Because house projects – as you know if you have ever lived in a house – follow the Domino Theory. One thing leads to another thing that leads to another thing, and before you know it you are living in dust up to your elbows and fighting with your most dearly beloved. First-world problem? Oh, yes.

But this one isn’t really all my fault.

Do you know how smells can change for you? How a smell you never noticed can suddenly make its presence known? Any woman who’s ever been pregnant knows what I’m talking about: yesterday’s favorite food becomes a nauseous mess because the once cherished aroma has become, without warning, stomach-turning. I’m told that people receiving chemotherapy must be very careful about the foods they select while in treatment, because their once-favorite foods may become repellant to them simply because the smell has changed so drastically for the worse.

When I was pregnant with my son my then-husband and I were still quite young and poor, and so I carried our laundry to my parents’ house each week to wash and dry. One afternoon I returned to our little apartment and started to make the bed when an unmistakable stink arose from the sheets: it was the remnants of my mother’s cigarette smoke, a substance I had imbibed almost without the slightest trouble since before I was born (early 1950’s). Aside from rainy days in a closed-up car, the smell had never bothered me before.

I would never do laundry in the presence of a smoker again, nor would cigarette smoking ever be allowed in our home again. This was the early ’70s, and the policy lost us more than a few friends who clearly believed I’d gone off my rocker. I like to think I was merely ahead of my time.


Over the past seven or eight years I’ve become terribly sensitive to cooking smells. I say terribly because I don’t enjoy this phenomenon one bit. The onions and garlic I love to incorporate into my cooking are fine while the actual cooking is taking place; the problem comes at bedtime. If the smells linger, they intrude into my sleep and render me unable to close an eye all night. We live in Texas, remember, and I live with a Texan. Previous generations may have had to endure whatever nature had to throw at them, but all that ended with the arrival of central air conditioning. Windows are made to be closed, and that’s that. Not to mention the fact that for half of the calendar year no right-minded person in Texas would want their windows open anyway.

So cooking smells linger and ruin my sleep.

I’ve told you before that my now-and-forever husband is thoughtful to a fault, and one example of this has been his zeal to install a truly effective vent hood over our stove. Not the stupid fan on the microwave that sucks in smells from the stovetop only to blow them out a few inches over your head, but a real, honest-to-goodness, blow-it-out-the-roof kitchen vent hood. Not only would it save me from dozens of insomniac nights every year, but we could also stir up the whole neighborhood’s envy on the Sunday mornings when Floyd allowed himself to indulge in bacon.

So the vent hood part is Floyd’s fault, and I guess I’ll have to claim responsibility for the roof.

All through the summer, roofers were in the neighborhood. On every block I’d see various roofing company signs on front lawns. A few times, I’d been confronted by their sales forces, encouraging free estimates! We deal with your homeowners’ insurance! All it costs you is your deductible!

Our house, built in 1998, was going to need a roof before too long. A “thirty-year roof” in central Texas usually proves to be good for roughly half that span of time. Our shingles were stained and discolored, and I saw that houses going up for sale around us almost invariably needed roof replacements even in our neighborhood’s sellers’ market. Why wait until we sell the house? Why shouldn’t we enjoy a new roof while we live here?

[Cue Nora Jones: I too have always wanted to wake up with the rain falling on a tin roof. So, as it turns out, has my dear spouse. What fortune!]

No matter that a metal roof will run you roughly six times your deductible; it will be lovely and sturdy and good for the resale value. All over the ‘hood, metal roofs were showing up. Sage green, taupe, beige (ugh), one memorable dusky red one that looks great on the white stone house it caps. And finally, finally one or two natural silvery roofs – the tin roof of our dreams. Reflective, energy-saving, attic-cooling: the real thing. That’s what we would have.

It was a radical leap into the twentieth century for our homeowners’ association’s architectural committee to even entertain metal roofs. We had no idea until we talked with friends a few blocks away how difficult it would be to sell them on plain silver. I was glad I was prepared. Among other application hoops, we also had to jump through the hoop of asking our immediate neighbors for their written approval. !

Evidently there is some concern that sunlight reflecting off a plain metal roof may disturb the serenity of people in the upper floors of houses located close to your own. Or perhaps the reflected rays will melt your neighbor’s SUV. This kind of thing tends to turn neighbors who are characteristically indifferent to one another into sworn lifelong enemies. Suburbs being what they are, nasty arguments erupt on the neighborhood list serve, creating enmity where once only friendly chatter was exchanged over the back fence. Lawsuits ensue.

So we collected our signatures. We obtained our approval. We signed the contract. A day was chosen for the work to begin. The roofing company people took the time to explain that metal roof installation takes longer than slapping up plain old shingles. They also explained that rainstorms might seem louder. They stopped just short of explaining that workers would be walking around on the top of our house during the replacement process.

It was time to get serious about the vent hood project. No better time to cut a hole in a perfectly sound roof than when said roof is being re-covered.

The choice of brand was up to me. I decided to go with a local shop that’s been around since before I came to Austin. We’d bought our vacuum from them, and we have a dishwasher of that same brand; both have made us very happy consumers. Why not go with their vent hood? So I picked one out and Floyd and I had all the typical conversations customers have with salespeople – except of course that this customer was going to be doing the installation himself and so required very detailed specs. Credit cards were handed over and in a few days the glorious stink-sucking beauty arrived.

I couldn’t imagine deciding how and where to make a hole in a perfectly good ceiling to allow a metal pipe to travel up through the attic and thence to a new hole in a perfectly good roof. It is a wonderful thing to be married to someone who is not only a highly experienced pipe-fitter, but who has also participated in the creation of numerous houses. Floyd knew just what to do, initiating the project by creating a reasonable walkway through our ridiculously useless attic and determining exactly where the major operations would take place.

One weekend we took down the cabinets and microwave over the stove, a radical move in a kitchen that isn’t exactly flush with storage space. I’d already decided that the dead space to the left of the vent hood would be a perfect place for custom made shelf-cum-pot-rack creations; this would free up two entire lower cabinets. In a kitchen that boasts the stupidest pantry in the history of pantries*, why worry about a little lost storage space?

Then Floyd commenced reconfiguring the wall behind the stove to make a good secure space for the vent hood. Dry wall had to be removed, an electrical outlet relocated, extra pieces of two-by-four screwed between studs to create an ultra-strong backing for the plywood to which the machinery would be anchored. A great deal of clambering into and out of the space behind the stove (the space through which the mechanicals and the chimney for our gas fireplace travel) was involved, no small feat for a man who had taken an impressive fall from his mountain bike earlier in the week and insulted his ribs.

I will never really understand how Floyd can so effectively bruise so many planes of his body in the same fall. I don’t want to know, really. This most recent one involved smashing up his ribs on both sides of his back. (He will not like me mentioning the fact that he was in pain, but I have injured my ribs and I know what it’s like. It makes me appreciate his work on this project a hundred times more.)

At last the wall was ready for the vent hood. Trial runs demonstrated that it works beautifully. All that’s left to do is order the stainless tiles I’ve chosen for the backsplash, and find some person to put them in place;

and for the roofers to make an opening through which the metal chimney pipe will run, then do whatever it is that professionals do to prevent rain from coming in and putting out the burners on which I am cooking smelly foods.

As of this morning, one side of the roof is now officially covered with metal. And somehow, despite the predictions of every purple sage in the neighborhood, it isn’t raining. (Marye Crawford, mother of my most dearly beloved, please stop reading now. Trust me when I tell you this.)

At the moment, Floyd and a friend from the old house-building days are up on ladders on top of the roof working on the fireplace chimney. A wind like we are having this morning, and such as we shall have all winter, causes that metal pipe to rattle around in its faux chimney and send deep slamming echoes all through the house. Floyd’s wanted to fix it since the first time he heard it, and it’s just as well he’s doing it while half the roof still has nice old-fashioned shingles to grip his boot soles.

I went out a few minutes ago to give him some fussing because despite our agreement he is not employing a tether. I’d just recently been talking to someone whose husband had taken a tumble from their roof. You know what’ll happen to you if you fall on one of my shrubs, I threatened. He told me I’d have to yell at him at the hospital. What a card.

So the week has been all about projects. I should mention that the yo-yo delivering the sheet metal for the roof appears to have driven one wheel of his truck up over the curb and into the sidewalk garden. Fortunately, the greenery is so thick you can barely discern the damage; fortunately it is near the end of our growing season and within a few weeks all this will be frozen to the ground.

I cannot believe how calm and accepting I’ve been about this little maneuver. Old age must be good for something after all. Or it may be that a few weeks of house projects make every problem short of a sawed-off finger or a broken neck seem like no kind of problem at all.

*Its shelves are 21 inches wide and 27 inches deep, tall enough for me to need my kitchen ladder in order to reach the cereal shelf (the only place that allows lofty items like cereal boxes), permanently set into the walls at heights that prohibit stacking – for example – two cans of tomatoes atop one another. The doorframe narrows it even further. It must have been designed by the same person who designed our lower cabinets, with permanent shelves built in so that the tallest objects must be stored in front. I believe both were designed by the people preparing for the Affordable Care Act rollout, who had given up building and decided to go into programming.

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