Well-Oiled Hinges

“The agent kicked aside some garbage with his shoe and, after a quick look around, stepped up to a solid oak door set into deep shadow beneath the porte-cochère. It seemed to Nora as if Pendergast merely caressed the lock; and then the door opened silently on well-oiled hinges.

            They stepped quickly inside. Pendergast eased the door closed, and Nora heard the sound of a lock clicking. A moment of intense darkness while they stood still, listening for any sounds from within. The old house was silent.”[1]

This passage is from the novel, The Cabinet of Curiosities, written by my favorite adventure / mystery duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. For some context, the FBI agent, Pendergast, and the scientist, Nora Kelly, are entering an apparently abandoned house of a mad doctor and serial killer who has inexplicably been able to defy death for more than a century. I’m quoting the passage because of the way the image of the well-oiled hinges cues the reader’s expectations. The house of the doctor is, in appearance, completely abandoned. However, the well-maintained door hardware disrupts this image and foreshadows events to come. Why would a seemingly derelict house have well-oiled door hinges? It is, of course, not really abandoned.

Maybe you’re in the market for a haunted house, or maybe you aren’t. Either way, an important lesson about perception can be taken from the foregoing passage.

I see lots of homes that are on the market. Often, the seller has done some work to freshen up the house and show its potential: a fresh coat of paint here and there, new mulch around the flowerbeds, and maybe some power-washing. Even though almost none of us have the time to keep our homes in picture perfect condition all the time, a little elbow-grease makes it easier for potential buyers to see themselves in the house. Broken toys, bare patches on the lawn, and faded paint have the opposite effect. Visual defects are tough to look past. Think about all the home buying shows on HGTV in which the buyers can’t get past the hideous green carpet to see the virtues of a given house.

Visual appeal is paramount, but my encouragement is to consider the sum of what your house conveys. Think about it, you can have the lawn mowed into PGA-worthy uniformity, but if you’re cooking broccoli and deviled eggs in the kitchen, the impression suffers – to put it mildly. Think too about what people coming into your home will hear. Whether you’re selling your home or just sprucing things up because guests are coming to town, the logic applies.

Even in relatively new homes, I encounter more squeaky doors than I care to recount. And with no surprise, homebuyers instinctively hone in on the noise. A slow groan from the door to the garage might not conjure images of mad scientists, but it does convey neglect and possibly damage. Conversely, doors that swing in smooth silence convey care and quality.  

The good news is that it is very easy and inexpensive to keep your house from sounding like a place Scooby Doo might reluctantly investigate for ghosts.

3 in 1 lubricating oil can be procured for about $4, will last you years, and is easy to apply. You may already have some around the house.

To clean and lubricate door hinges, take off the cap and align the small plastic knob at the end of the nozzle with the intersection between the stacked rings of the door hinges.

Next, apply a bit of oil and have a paper towel or a rag to catch the excess. It might seem like you’re just covering the outside of the hinge, but the oil will work its way in toward the pin.

Often, after an application, it is helpful to open and shut the door a few times to work the oil through. Finally, wipe down the hinge a second time so the oil doesn’t drip on the floor.

Once your door stops squeaking, you’ll very quickly forget all about it – and this isn’t a bad thing. The whole point is that you don’t want to notice door squeaks! Now, you’ll be free to focus on other projects like installing a new vented range hood, so all your neighbors can savor the smell of your broccoli and deviled eggs.

– Joe

[1] Preston, Douglas, and Lincoln Child. The Cabinet of Curiosities. New York, Warner Books, 2002. 376.