Home improvement gets a lot of attention these days, thanks to HGTV programs and the do-it-yourself draw of Home Depot and Lowe’s. Home maintenance however, lurks gleefully behind the scenes. Home maintenance demands your attention regularly, whether you want it to or not. If you’re a home owner, you’re a home maintainer. It’s the gift that never stops giving.
Last week our kitchen garbage disposal finally got the best of me. It’s kinda-sorta worked for several weeks now, but the occasional drip-drip below the sink (and why is it just occasional?) and the uncomfortably loud grind of its teeth had my disposal practically begging to be replaced. So I finally completed the task, but not before discovering some unexpected wiring and plumbing as a bonus.
For me, that’s how it goes with all home maintenance projects. Something breaks. I assess the situation and decide how long I can put off the fix. I don’t wave the white flag until I find all of the work-around options I can think of. Then, at last I purchase the parts and round up the tools, take a deep breath and dive in. That’s where a project gets really interesting, because there’s always more adventure in the repair than meets the eye.
When I wrote about my smoke detector assault a couple of weeks ago, the fact remained that I had ten outdated detectors still to be replaced. Amazon Marketplace came to my rescue. One mantra for modern times is “you can buy anything on Amazon”, and home maintenance projects back up that claim. I matched my ten-year-old smoke detectors to photos and details on Amazon and instantly purchased a whole box of the exact same little devils. But what looked like an easy project became anything but. It wasn’t until I replaced the first one that I realized the ceiling mount on the new units is slightly different than what I already have. So instead of just clicking in the new units, I also get to replace each ceiling mount, including the electrical wiring.
Perhaps you’re one of those who pays someone else to do your repairs. You figure, cough up the money and the job will be done a lot sooner (and better) than through your own effort. Much as I want to walk that road, my conscience always gets the better of me. I grew up with a father who basked in the curiosity of home maintenance and improvement. He just about lived for any kind of fix-it project on his weekends. His own upbringing – including a hand in the construction of his own childhood home – gave him the confidence to even take on the projects he’d never done before. Hence one summer my brothers and I found ourselves digging trenches and piecing together PVC pipe in our front yard as we constructed a massive sprinkler network. I’m not sure I even knew how to turn on the sprinklers before that.
Twenty-five years of home ownership would suggest I’ve evolved into a home maintenance expert. Nope; just not built that way. Even the most routine project still finds a way to confound me. Whether I’m replacing the guts of a toilet, rewiring a light fixture, or addressing the next water crisis (and there’s always a next in that department), I cut myself a break by assuming the project will not go as planned. That’s a good strategy for those of you just getting into the fix-it game. Beware the phrases “easy to install”, “replaces in minutes” or “requires no tools”. It will never go down as simple as swapping the old for the new.
Here are five home repair mantras worth memorizing. One, your project will require parts or steps that were not part of your original plan. Two, your project will involve words and gestures that are not typically part of your vocabulary. Three, double the time you need to complete your repair (actually, triple it). Four, the previous installation was not done perfectly – and you will suffer because of it. And Five, you will worry for days or weeks after your repair, wondering whether you got it right.
Yesterday – utterly mocking this topic – my coffeemaker called it quits. I worked on it for over an hour to no avail. Broken coffeemaker and no morning joe? Makes me want to call the repairman from here on out.