As the housing remodel industry anxiously awaits a recovery and the soothing sound of pens signing work change orders and hammers pounding roofs, homeowners like me are taking ladders into our own hands with DIY repair jobs. Being underemployed seems to allow that extra time for doing what we’ve put off for years.
“Yeah, I’m looking around and seeing that leaky ceiling in the kitchen and hole in the floor and figuring I better do something before the house collapses,” says a friend, Gary Hauser, a self-employed graphic designer, who inherited the Fifties-era San Francisco home he grew up in, and has been able to remain fairly conservative over the years in financing the upkeep.
Much of the home remains intact, from the understated linoleum kitchen to the mid-century geometric print drapes hung in the family room. But a leak is a leak and if you can patch it yourself, there’s more money for school, groceries and the mandatory evenings out with other adults. “This is the year of deferred maintenance,” Hauser laments.
My own husband is also strapping on a tool belt these days, ushered into the job of handyman after the last straw in a string of deferred maintenance snafus – the collapse of my 10-year-old’s Ikea bed.
The modern maple frame had been cracked for months and finally gave way with a loud thump the other night when my darling girl hurled herself on the mattress in yet another exuberant display of bedtime frolic. Told you, so, Lauren. Now we have a busted bed, in addition to a farting and anemic kitchen faucet, broken grill fan switch, loose glass door knobs that lock us into our rooms and a dryer with a dysfunctional thermostat that makes a tedious chore that much more tedious.
The question remains what can we afford to farm out to professionals and what can we take on ourselves. It’s $50 for a visit and estimate for the Thermador fan and the 15-year-old Maytag dryer, and god knows how much for parts.
Still, it turns out many of the deferred maintenance issues we face involve the cleaning of the appliances. They simply don’t work as they should when they are caked with film, their hoses blocked by debris, their coals drenched in grease.
I know this because a Maytag repair man did visit my house this week and said there was so much gunk that the 15-year-old dryer is not heating up and doing its job. It also needs a new board so that it won’t run endlessly and require constant monitoring. The good news is I can put off ordering a new washer-dryer for a little longer. I was hoping to get an Energy Star rated brand and a rebate, and will eventually when things pick up.
Patrick Langan, a Diamond-Certified Handyman with a construction company in the San Francisco Bay Area, earns much of his income from fence and deck work. “If you can own the average $1 million house in San Francisco, you are not going to be doing it yourself,” he asserts, guessing that homeowners with money don’t like to get their hands dirty.
He is right in the case of a friend, whose husband is a banker and insists she take care of all maintenance issues because he works hard and makes the money and should not have to lift a finger around the house. I should add that he’s a real horse’s ass. Still, she does it and is pretty good at fixing most things.
“People can tend to the landscaping themselves and I suppose paint areas pretty close to the ground,” Langan suggests. He says he has had to lower his bids this year to get jobs like the 120-foot fence he is currently rebuilding for a family in the outskirts of the city. The job costs $2,000. I think I saved a lot with Edwin and my brother-in-law rebuilding ours.
According to home improvement blogger Dennis Seeley, there are four basic steps moonlighting handy men and women should take before strapping on those belts:
1. Talk to a Pro and see how much it would cost for the repair based on a description of your problem.
2. Use the web to search about the repair at hand.
3. Figure out the tools required for tackling the job. Do you have them?
4. Take photos of the the beast and go forward with the confidence of a certified pro.
Seeley says he learned how to do small repairs when he could not afford to hire someone to fix his car air compressor or install Automatic Pool Cleaner for his pool.
“People can save money if they are willing to take a risk and do things that are out of their comfort zone, however, people often lack confidence and sometimes the tools necessary to do the job,” says Seeley. “With a little research and reading people can often learn how to do a repair project on their own.” He adds that the benefit of taking photos is you can show rather than just describe your repair to a hardware store or other clerk when fixing or replacing home appliances.
And if you can’t fix appliances like the dryer, yourself, the eco option of hang drying works pretty well. Hang dry. Up until now, I have no other choice.
Yes, it is the year of deferred maintenance, and it is clear, the deferred part is no accident. Any kid will tell you: Home work sucks!
This is the latest installment in Luanne Bradley’s column, Life in the Green Lane.
Main Image: Vincha
Images: Luanne Bradley; Plangan Construction