Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Home Repair Redux

My folks were in town for Memorial Day Weekend to visit their grandbabies.  That went fine enough; everyone seemed to have survived.  Unfortunately, on Sunday afternoon I went to the basement to get some laundry and I saw water all over the floor.  It seems our water heater had decided it was time to die.  17 years isn't bad for a water heater, but no one ever wants to see one die.  My father, with bad knees and hip, struggled down our basement stairs to declare it dead.  He and I had a moment of silence for it as we stared at water leaking out the rusted inlet port, down the body, onto the floor, and into the drain.

"Are you going to put one in or have someone do it?" My father broke the moment.  He and I had talked about replacing the garage door (that we still haven't done), and when to decide if I should do the work or have someone else do it.  He reminded me how lucky I am to even have the option.

"I'm going to have someone else do it.  I don't mind plumbing and sweating joints, but I don't like working with gas lines."

He told me it's not a bad job, especially if I'm comfortable with plumbing.  He wished he could help, but he and my mother were leaving the next morning to visit my sister in Maryland.  I didn't want to do it, though it seemed straight forward enough.  If I had a plumber do the job, we may have been without hot water for days, since Monday was a holiday and I didn't know how soon I could get someone into the house.  And since our home and auto repair bills seem to be piling up this summer, saving a couple of bucks wouldn't be bad either.

If you recall this post, you know I'm conflicted about doing home repairs at the expense of my family.  This job seemed smaller than a garage door, but with plumbing one never knows.  I always assume there will be at least two leaks and two unplanned trips to the hardware store.  Still, my manhood wanted me to do the job myself, to prove I still have the prowess to do home repairs myself. 

Bolstered by a quick lawnmower repair job earlier in the week, and after two trips to Home Depot on Memorial Day, I got a water heater and all the attachments to make the repairs.  A friend came over to help and we got to work late that day.  I could try to build suspense, but I won't.  The installation went better than expected; we did the entire job in under two hours.  We had one small gas leak we found while testing, but it was nothing a Crescent wrench and some elbow grease couldn't fix.  It works great.

While we were installing the heater, the boys came down to check on our progress.  I was conflicted about having them there to help.  I wanted them to see how to do plumbing and that jobs like installing water heaters isn't intimidating.  But it was also late afternoon, nearing dinner and bedtimes, and I had a friend willing to give up part of his Memorial Day holiday to help me.  I didn't want a 2 hours job to extend into a 5 hour job.  So I showed them a few things about the water heater and how the pipes worked.  I explained how a water heater worked, and the boys watched me fit some pipes together, using pipe compound to prevent leaks. 

They were interested, but fortunately not as interested as they might have been, and their mother shuttled them back upstairs so I and my friend could work.  I remember my father giving me similar opportunities to learn repair techniques.  I seldom took them.  I don't want my boys to miss opportunities because I don't provide them, but I have to balance those with their age, ability, and what time we have available.  I'm not sure I'm comfortable with them tightening down a gas line or leveling a 40-gallon water heater.  Or, more specifically, I'm not sure I wanted to spend the time having them help and then tweaking their work to make sure the bubble is between the lines.  It's my impatience.  I know they are young and there will be many more chances to teach them home repair, but I am cognizant of the window and don't want to close it on them.

One of the greatest things my father gave me was a belief that jobs like home or auto repair aren't as daunting as they seem.  I can do plumbing or electrical or auto repair work.  It isn't daunting or scary.  It takes some willingness to learn and a willingness to try and a willingness to know when to call the plumber or electrician or mechanic.  That confidence transcends the simple repairs I do around the house.  It allows me to do most things I put my mind to, like earn a PhD or raise children.  It isn't that hard.  It just takes a willingness to learn and try.  I hope to instill that confidence in my boys as well.  If they get only that, I know they will find their way in the world, no matter what the challenge. 


  1. I enjoyed this post. I bought a home by myself almost three years ago and have been challenged to do many things I didn't think I could.
    I've found, as you did, that most are not as daunting as they seem and can give me a great sense of satisfaction when I complete them.

  2. A couple of years ago, I found a pool of water in our basement around the floor drain. I checked to see if the water heater or washer had sprung a leak, but they were OK. So I mopped uo the water and went back upstairs. A couple of hours later, the water was back, so I mopped it up again and went to bed.

    The next morning, the water was back, so I told Lisa to call Tom, our plumber, and went to work. At noon, I called her to see when Tom was coming over, and she told me that he had been there and gone. When she had told him what was going on, he said, "Yeah, bad sump pump. Be right there." And the problem was fixed.

    I hate working with my hands. I want to write checks to little fix-it elves who come in the middle of the night and repair things. I have put about $60,000 worth of improvements and repairs into my house and barely swung a hammer. However, I paid cash for $45,000 of it, so in a way, I am working for it.

  3. I think I've mentioned that my husband hires out NOTHING! So we're getting pretty good at most things. We, too, let the kids "help" when there's time (Ken has more patience than me, though...I usually just want to get the job done.) My 11 year old drives a Kubota tractor to mow 6 acres without even realizing it's work. I love that they know how to do things, even though there are many things I'd rather hire someone else to do.

  4. The best line of this blog entry is "I know they are young and there will be many more chances to teach them home repair, but I am cognizant of the window and don't want to close it on them." It works because the subject is, in part, about home repair, and so it works well, in my opinion, to use the metaphorical window while sharing the writer's view about the other part of the subject: teaching, being together, bonding, and the (quick) passage of time.