Monday, April 30, 2012

On the Practical

Many years ago I posted about the fact that our high school students ought to be getting some practical education in addition to the academics they are taught.  Unfortunately, nothing much has changed.

Back when I was a young girl one called a repair person to the house only when things were uniquely broken or had a truly major problem.  The regular repairs and maintenance were handled by the "man" of the house and yes, sometimes by the "woman" as well.  You didn't call a plumber to change the washer in a faucet or to install a new handle on a toilet.  You didn't call an electrician to install a regular lighting fixture in the house, and certainly not to remove the cover of covered fixtures and change a lightbulb.  "Small" painting jobs in the house, such as a closet or a kitchen ceiling, were handled by a home's residents.  You needed your carpets cleaned?  You cleaned them yourself--and don't ask what this required back before many of today's labor saving devices.  If you blew a fuse, you went to the fusebox and replaced the fuse. 

Today, there are far fewer husbands and wives with the knowledge, training or desire to take care of these small jobs.  Everything, but everything requires a specialist.  You need to replace the Shabbos clock in the dining room?  Call the electrician and he'll take care of everything, including handing you a whopper of a bill when he is done. The faucets on your kitchen sink need replacing?  Why bother going to Home Depot or the like and then have to put in the work to take out the old faucet and put in the new--after all, that's what plumbers are for.

And when that specialist can't make it for a few days?  Well, so what.  Better to do without then to do it yourself.

I was so lucky that my husband fell into the category of do-it-yourself-er.  Home repair is not his field of business, but that doesn't mean that he does not take pride in being able to take care of what must be taken care of in HIS home.

Just out of curiousity I asked my students how many of them knew where the breaker box was or where the water main was in their homes.  The percentage was so small as to be insignificant.  Then again, this is the same age group which doesn't know how to change a tire or put oil in their cars.  A lot of them don't know how to check the level of oil in their cars, or even what to do if their battery overheats.  As they said to me, "that's what the car help groups are for." 

Some of these small things can represent a lot of money laid out, and it shouldn't be.  Two of my dining room chairs had a loose arm on them.  My husband got the correct glue, clamped the arms, and the next day the chairs were as good as new.  He then lightly reglazed the arms where the clamps had rested. A neighbor had a similar problem.  She, however, called the local handyman to come and fix the chairs.  She had three loose arms.  The handyman came one day and glued and clamped the chairs.  He came the next day and removed the clamps and "tested" the arms.  He did not refinish the arms.  His charge for this work?  $285. 

A local hardware store rents a floor stripping machine, including the liquid stripper, for $50 a day.  The same machine also has an attachment that will apply floor sealer, at a cost of about $20 a gallon. Even with having to move things around to get to the floor, a four room apartment can be done in a few days maximum.  A young couple I know hired someone to strip the floors of the apartment they would be moving into.  It was completely empty when they had the work done.  And the cost for this smallish 4 room apartment was $700 for the labor and an additional cost of $160 for the supplies.

Lots of reasons to know how to do things yourself, and money is surely one of them.  Pride of accomplishment is another.  Yes, one way in which those "good old days" was clearly better, or at least the inhabitants of those good old days were.


Trudy said...

A long time ago we had a servant class and today we have the service class. Not doing things for yourself is supposed to put you into the higher levels of society. I don't believe that it does but a lot of people do. Not doing basic household repairs is a sign that you've made it.

For me this is just a sign of ignorance on so many levels.

Miami Al said...

I think it's ignorance. I never learned to change my oil or change a tire, and it's kind of embarrassing. I learned from a friend in college how to check the oil level and add oil, but actually draining it out and replacing, no clue...

That lack of knowledge probably costs us $100-$200/year.

Flip side, most of my friends choose to rent their cars to avoid needing to deal with repairs or even basic maintenance. One refuses to spend a dime on the leased car, and doesn't do oil changes.

OTOH, I did learn, from my father, how to do basic repairs around the house, that saves us lots of money.

I also know people that pay someone to do EVERYTHING around the house. Recently, my wife has gotten frustrated at the length of my honey-do list, it might be time to get a repairman in for a day of projects.

But yeah, swapping out a light fixture takes 15 minutes (probably an hour the FIRST time you do it and are scared), and most of my friends are SHOCKED that I can do such things.

A few even make jokes about how I must not "really be Jewish."

I think that there is some truth to what Trudy said as well, but it's definitely way to bleed money on your house.

tesyaa said...

There's a tradeoff between money and time, and sometimes I do pay for a job I am capable of but don't have the time to attack. On the whole, though, I can do a bunch of home repairs that most women and many men have no idea how to do. And the Internet is super useful. I wasn't sure what was wrong with my toilet, but a Google search explained that the problem was the flush valve. A YouTube video taught me how to replace it. Cost? $7.

JS said...

I often tell friends of mine who are considering buying a house (and are coming from an apartment building where the super did everything for you) that you have two basic choices when you own a house: fix it yourself or pay someone to fix it. If you can't fix it yourself and don't have the money to pay someone for every small project, your house will slowly fall apart.

I'm pretty handy around the house because my father taught me. But, most people are completely clueless and scared to do things. Being scared is the worst of the two. I remember a neighbor of ours would call my dad to change lightbulbs because he was truly afraid of being electrocuted. Imagine the feeling some have at exposed wiring! The Internet is a phenomenal tool for homeowners as tesyaa pointed out. You can easily identify the problem and often find a step-by-step instructional video. Again, though, it's useless if you're afraid to try things. Above any practical knowledge my dad imparted, not being scared was far more valuable. I'd also note some people think it's beneath them to get their hands dirty.

That said, a lot has changed in the past few decades. My dad would change his own oil or do his own brakes. He'd take apart televisions or other appliances and buy repair guides for them. He'd even pick up practically new, expensive stereos or televisions and try to fix them because he liked the challenge.

But, you know what? He doesn't do that anymore. They don't build cars, televisions, or other appliances like they used to. They're not designed to be fixed. They're designed to be replaced. Or, instead of popping in a resistor or transistor, you replace an entire circuit board. It's not worth the time to diagnose to that level since the boards are so cheap. My dad doesn't change his oil anymore either - it's too difficult to get at the parts in newer cars and environmental regulations make disposing of the oil a real pain. Same with brakes - anti-lock brakes are far more difficult to install properly. In all cases it's either very difficult to do yourself or truly not worth it.

The other issue is knowing when to call someone. With your floor stripping example, sanding a floor properly (not gauging it, for example) can be difficult. It takes a certain skill. My dad redid his floors once and it came out OK, but not great. Years later when it needed to be done again, he paid someone. Came out far better.

My philosophy is do the small stuff yourself and pay someone for the hard stuff or where a professional's touch is needed.

miriamp said...

I run phone wire and do minor electrical work. My husband does minor plumbing work. Complicated stuff we hire someone.

Hudi said...

My dad taught me how to do all the small things around the house. His advice was to call a specialist for anything big or that required a lot more knowledge then I would have.

I really thanked my dad after a local electrician ran a special with flyers that went to everyone's home in the neighborhood. He was offering to check all the lighting fixtures in a house to see if they were still good or needed replacement and to replace any bulbs that were going all for only $199 per house. The cost of any new fixtures or replacement bulbs was extra.

It was supposed to be a one week special but it ended up going for 3 weeks because he got that many calls. I think the commenter above was right when he talked about being afraid. I guess when it comes to electric things being afraid wins over saving money.

Miami Al said...

If you're not afraid, most of these projects can be tackled by a home owner. It might take you 3-4 times the time of a pro, but it's doable. Then there are projects that suck, so it might be worth paying someone.

I've replaced a toilet, it was a MISERABLE SMELLY experience. When we went to replace the next one, I had someone that was doing some real work on my house do it, he charged me $100 and did it in an hour. I picked up the toilet at Home Depot, just was agonizing about the install.

My hose hookups were leaking when I used them, which was running up my bill. My plumber wanted $250/bib to replace. I spent about $50 on parts and about two hours one weeknight evening and replaced two of them... and I put nicer ones in then the plumber would have done unless I bought the fancy ones.

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

I'm with Tesyaa. I do a lot of home repair myself, but often it's a matter of whether the time or the money is worth more to me.

SubWife said...

I think it's just like housework. Anyone can do it, but many choose to pay a cleaning lady to either do it all or some of it. I don't know anyone incapable of washing/ironing shirts, but still many people give them to dry cleaners for washing. I think the key is to know how much exactly it would cost you in time and money to do it yourself vs. hiring professional and making an informed decision.

As a side note, people should also know their limitations. I have heard of cases where attempting to do it yourself did more damage and ended up costing much more at the end.

Basically, like with everything else, be informed and use your common sense.

mlevin said...

Just last Sunday my husband had spent a whole hour installing a fire alarm in the basement apartment. Had our handyman been available he would have done it in 5 minute. Well worth the money, in my humble opinion.