Home and Garden
For those who still have them

Around this time of year, most folks are tuning in to DIY-network (do it yourself) and heading to Home Depot with visions of spring dancing in their head.

The Suburbans and Yukons are doing their little do-si-do in Lowe's parking lots from one end of the city to the other.

It's usually a happy time, and this week's moderating temps seem to be slightly restoring our souls-if not yet our lawns.

Still, Spring Fever this year is slightly more daunting, complicated by an unseasonably harsh winter, and ice storm damage.

Sometimes a big storm-like a big fire-can have an inspiring effect (if you're looking really, really hard for the silver lining). Hey, new growth always follows scorched earth.

This may be the year to bite the bullet and hire the pros. And there may be some chores you can tackle on your own. Jowers usually can be counted on to tell you the difference.

Cleaning up after disaster
By Walter Jowers

At about 3:15 p.m. before the storm hit, co-inspector Rick and I finished up our last job. We had a fine view of the city.

Rick looked north and said, "Looks like that big black cloud is just about over your house." We headed for our office-which is at my house.

I said, "If it hits the house, I sure hope it takes it all the way down to the foundation. I don't think I could live through another renovation."

The damage missed my house by about a quarter-mile.

Sunday, Brenda and I drove around and had a look for ourselves. The city isn't exactly gone, but it does look as though one of those spaceships from Independence Day went through, west-to-east, right at rooftop level. Hundred-foot-tall pin oak trees were down, crashing into some homes and knifing through others.

Living without a roof, electricity, heat, cable, or telephones is ugly enough, but folks who own historic houses have an extra burden. They'll probably have to fight to get their houses restored without having them remuddled.

For those unfamiliar with the term, remuddling is the act of taking a fine old house and torturing it into a hideous, gimcrack anachronism. There are lots of ways to remuddle a house, but some repeat offenses are replacing tongue-and-groove porch ceilings with plywood; chopping off a conical roof and slapping on a flat roof; replacing built-in gutters with modern nail-on gutters; and covering wood siding and trim with vinyl. There's no end to the evil genius of remuddlers.

Since the storm, I've had a few calls from old-house owners looking for guidance during the rebuilding process. I've never dealt with big-time storm damage before, so I got in touch with my fellow home inspector, Mark Cramer. Cramer works in and around T ampa, Fla. He got quite an education in storm damage when Hurricane Andrew tore up the west coast of Florida a few years back.

I told Mark about the storm, and I told him that while we have our share of skilled tradespeople, there aren't very many old-house specialists. I also told him that I was worried some of the insurance adjusters might not know the difference between a turret and a ferret, a corbel and a gerbil.

"Most adjusters are very fair," Cramer said, "but probably have little or no experience with fancy, old-house stuff. They work mainly from computer-based estimating programs that won't have a lot of that type of work listed."

He explained that repair estimates for each damaged room are figured by adding up so many square feet of drywall, so many linear feet of baseboard, and so on. He cautioned that this kind of estimating doesn't take into account the need for custom old-house work, such as reproducing old windows or installing sheet-metal roofing.

Cramer explained that after Hurricane Andrew, most insurance companies would pay supplemental claims when homeowners got halfway into their repair work and discovered that earlier cost estimates fell short of the actual repair costs. He concluded by saying that insurance adjusters are usually glad to look at an experienced contractor's estimates for making custom, old-house repairs.

Old-house owners, here's what you do: Find a good general contractor who has experience with old houses. Get him to write up all the repair estimates. If you have to pay for this out of pocket, it's probably worth it.

Finally, Mark Cramer and I agree: Do not sign a claim release until all the repair work is done. Of course, this isn't just a brick-and-mortar decision, it's also a legal and financial decision. So don't just take our word for it. Run it by your lawyer.

When to hire an expert. When not to.

At least once a day, somebody looks me in the eye and says, "Can I fix it myself?"

At this point, I pause for a few seconds. While I'm pausing, here's what I'm thinking: A whole lot of people couldn't build a footstool if you gave 'em all the parts pre-cut. A few people, given enough time and money, could build a moon rocket without referring to the blueprints. How am I supposed to know where you fall on that scale?

Then I say, "Hire a good contractor," because that's the best advice about 90 percent of the time.

But every time I do this, I feel a little guilt. Because this is America. Land of gumption. We're a butt-kicking, tree-chopping, moon-landing people. Who am I to go around stomping out the embers of self-reliance?

You want to work on your own house? Good. Here are two things just about anybody can do.


When I was doing my last big renovation, my friend Jim Draeger was working on the sixth draft of his master's thesis. He showed up at my house one night all full of rage and frustration, complaining about the endless rewriting. I gave him a sledgehammer. He flattened two divider walls and a useless closet all by himself. He hauled the mess out to the Dumpster, then climbed into the Dumpster and jumped up and down on the pile for 15 minutes.

After it was over, he told me that the whole time he was working, he saw everything in shades of gray, and he had at no time felt any pain, friction, or pressure. Best I can figure, Jim went for about two hours using nothing but his brain stem. Clearly, demolition is good, cleansing work.

Before you start swinging a sledgehammer, be sure you're not tearing out any load-bearing walls. If you're not sure which ones are load-bearing, hire a good carpenter just to tell you which walls you can tear out.

Be careful not to tear up any live wiring or plumbing. When you take out a wall, knock little holes first and look for wires and pipes. Work around them, then get an electrician and a plumber to take them apart.

House-wrecking safety gear includes heavy jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, work boots, work gloves, a hard hat, and a respirator. Dust could contain lead, asbestos, and who knows what else. I recommend that you wear all the gear. On the other hand, I didn't get in Draeger's way when he was wrecking my house wearing nothing but gym shorts and flip-flops.


Any higher primate can paint. It's the tedious prep work that separates us from the lower creatures. For every hour actually spent painting, you should spend several hours scraping, patching, and sanding. If you paint over bumpy, dusty, or ragged surfaces, everything you paint will actually look worse than it did before you started.

Finally, fight off all urges to do your own wiring. Even the electricians have trouble with wiring.

l Home Repair Information

Many residents who still need to have damage repaired are asking where should they start?

According to the Division of Building Inspection, a building permit will be needed for any structural repair such as rafter repairs, collapsed porches, or roof damage.

Homeowners, their representative, or the registered contractor doing the work should obtain a building permit before doing the work to the home.

To obtain a building permit, bring a description of the repairs being made to the home including size and type of repair materials needed and come to the Division of Building Inspection, 101 East Vine Street, Phoenix Building, second floor. Severe damage may require an on-site review from a building inspector.

Minor repairs such as torn gutters, broken windows, or loose siding do not require a permit. Because of the extensive damage Lexington has faced, the permit fees for emergency repairs for the next 30 days will be suspended, pending UCG Council approval tonight.

Citizens should request to see a copy of a business license and an indication that the company is registered with the UCG.

For business license registration, call Revenue at 258-3340. For more information, call Building Inspection at 258-3770. Information is also available at

Building Inspection Mobile Unit

Building permits, for emergency repairs only, can be obtained from the Building Inspection mobile unit from 9am to 5pm at the following locations:

March 6-Castlewood Community Center, 201 Castlewood Dr.

March 7-Fire Station #15, 3308 Shillito Park.

Electrical permits, contractor's registration, and business registrations may also be picked up during this time.

Visit the website at for a list of electricians and permit information. For more information, call Building Inspection at 258-3770.

Electrical Service Information

Fayette County residents that need their electrical service installed should follow these steps.

If you have damage to the weather mast or the electrical service inside your house, you must contact a locally approved licensed electrician to make necessary repairs. Once repairs are completed, the work must be inspected by the authorized licensed inspector. If the repair work is approved, the inspector will notify Kentucky Utilities to reconnect the electrical service from the pole.

Please remind people that Division of Building Inspection does not perform repairs, make inspections or refer people to electricians.

The Division of Building Inspection does maintain a list of licensed electricians who have registered to perform work in Fayette County. Call (859) 258-3252 to obtain a list of registered electricians

Procedure for Restoration of Power:

1. Contact a licensed contractor with the LFUCG to repair the damage to your service equipment. (Check for a list of licensed contractors or call 258-3770 for information.)

2. After the repairs are completed your contractor must call Commonwealth Inspection Bureau, Inc for an inspection at 263-7800.

3. When Commonwealth Inspection has made an inspection and approved the repairs they will forward the approval to KU. Once KU has their approval they will restore your power.

A homeowner can obtain a home owners electrical permit to perform the necessary repairs. The homeowner must perform all the work. After the work is completed the homeowner must call for an inspection from Commonwealth as well.


Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Public Works crews will be working in several neighborhoods over the next few weeks clearing up ice storm tree debris.

City crews have already cleared many areas; however, much more is left to be done.

A cleanup schedule has been developed. Below is a list of areas that crews will be working in:

* Harrodsburg Road to Nicholasville Road between New Circle Road and Rosemont Garden-March 5, 6, & 7.

Additional schedules will be made available as the cleanup progresses. These schedules may be altered if crews get called to perform snow removal work.

Limbs may be no larger than four feet long and six inches in diameter. Limbs do not have to be bundled and tied, but should be stacked at the curb. Please do not block sidewalks or place debris in the street.