Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ask Mr. Repair Person, Not Me

Need helping doing home repairs? Boy have you come to the wrong place! But as long as you're here, you might as well get a few laughs.

You don't need a lot of sophisticated equipment in order to take care of most household projects. In fact, my tool box contains only the following: a hammer, pliers, a 6-foot measuring tape, a Phillips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver, a center punch, assorted nails, bandages, antibiotic ointment and hydrogen peroxide. The latter three items are absolute necessities for me, as I am the sort of person who could injure himself with a sponge. My ineptitude helps me remember which projects I've completed, however. For example, if I can't remember whether I hung a picture yet, I have only to look at my swollen thumb.

Don't worry if you can't do advanced projects like those featured in magazines such as Family Handyman. Once in a while I browse through these publications. They have articles about various home projects that are "easy to do", but when I read them I just get confused. For example:

To repair a hardwood floor, just take a runge plouter and cut out a piece one metric foot wider than the damaged part. Drill 23/64 inch holes around the area with an impact drill. Then get a gangplank of Brazilian mahogany, cut with a miter saw to fit the hole, bevel the edges with a reciprocating lathe, and fasten it to the floor with guar gum. Secure the area with Langerhan screws. Next, fill any cracks with a 2:1 mixture of wood cement and Silly Putty. After it dries, smooth it out with 167 grit sandpaper. Varnish to match existing floor color, and seal with Cranson's oil-based micturating polyurethane.

This type of literature is only for professionals and die-hard hobbyists, not idiots like you and me. The people who write it make numerous assumptions, such as that you own an arc welder and an angle grinder, because, after all, who doesn't?

The easiest way to get anything done is to hire a professional contractor. This has become my preferred method. I used to tackle major jobs myself, refusing to pay anyone for a job that surely someone like me with a college degree could handle. Invariably I'd accidentally start a fire or lose a body part, and I'd end up paying a professional more than if I had just called him in the first place. Unfortunately contractors are usually very busy, which is why most of them wouldn't even think of coming out to my home, except maybe to spit on it. But boy does their attitude change during the winter when business is slow. They hire telemarketers to call me in a shameless attempt to drum up business:

Telemarketer: "Hello, Mr. or Mrs. Schwalb?"
Me:                 "Yes."
Telemarketer: "This is Florence Muckraker from Friggemall Services. We do any large job, from room additions to roof repair."
Me:                 "No thanks."
Telemarketer: "Perhaps there's a rusty pipe that needs replacement."
Me:                 "Nope."
Telemarketer: "How about some dirty dishes that need washing?"

Even the simplest household tasks are beyond my abilities. For example, let's say I decided to inspect and clean my chimney. (Why I would even want to do this is a mystery, mainly because I'm not even sure I have a chimney.) They say that chimneys build up soot and creosote, which are highly flammable and are the leading cause of chimney fires. In medieval times, castle and manor house chimneys were large enough for men to climb into and clean; however, by the 18th century chimneys were narrower, so small children were employed as chimney sweeps, the result being that some of them got stuck and were suffocated by dust and soot. In colonial America, homeowners would drop a live chicken down their chimneys. The frightened bird would flap its wings, dislodging the soot and creosote. For larger chimneys the homeowner would use a goose. Eventually a group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had the practice outlawed on the grounds that it was a form of animal cruelty, and they demanded that chimney owners go back to using children. Anyway, my method of chimney inspection and cleaning would involve sticking my head in the bottom, looking upward, and saying something brilliant like, "It's dark in here," which would cause thirty-five pounds of soot to dislodge and fall on me, at which point I would emerge from the mess looking like Al Jolson.

So, being a mature individual who realizes his limitations, I have a different approach when it comes to tackling large household projects (defined as "any project more complicated than changing flashlight batteries"). For example, this is my method for fixing damaged roof shingles:

  1. Call local roofing contractor.
  2. When he arrives, greet him and offer him a beverage.
  3. Drink beer until he finishes repairing the roof.
  4. Write him a check.

Oh sure, I could go up there myself with a hammer, roofing nails, tin snips, a putty knife and roofing cement, but if I did that, the next number I called would be 911.

You can cut costs on some wood projects by using cheaper wood products. For example, particleboard is a cheap alternative. Oh sure, it might not be wood, but it is engineered to look like wood as long as you're standing far enough away (say, in Sri Lanka). I'm not sure what particleboard is made from, but I suppose it's stuff that falls off of actual wood when they process it, e.g., sawdust, wood chips, bark, fingers, etc.

When buying lumber, remember that the actual width and depth of a board is not what its name would suggest. For example, a "two by four" is really 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches. Why? Because this is America, and people just accept the fact that they don't always get what they bargain for. (For example, you know damn well that politicians are full of poop when they make campaign promises, but you vote for them anyway.)

Extension cords should be the proper gauge. Gauge is a measurement of how much current a wire can carry. If you operate a device with a cord that does not have enough electrical capacity, the wire can heat up and catch fire. The longer the extension cord, the greater the capacity you need, because distance increases resistance. For example, a 100-foot extension cord used to operate a lawnmower had better be pretty thick. (Yes, there are electric lawnmowers, used mainly by blondes so they can find their way back to the house.) By the way, make sure that pets don't use electrical cords as chew toys. I once had a girlfriend whose cat chewed through an electrical cord, which was pretty stupid when you consider that it was the only thing holding him to the balcony.

When attaching a heavy or weight-bearing item to a wall, try to find a stud. No, I don't mean Brad Pitt - I'm talking about one of the vertical support beams behind the wall. In most homes these are pine two-by-fours spaced 16 inches apart. A neat little gadget that can help you locate studs is a stud finder. It's a hand-held device that you slide along the wall. When it detects a change in wall density (wood is denser than air), it beeps. Unfortunately it will beep at anything that changes the wall density, even if it is not a stud. One time I was drilling a spot where my stud finder had beeped, and when I removed the drill bit, water started to trickle out of the hole. I had drilled into a PVC drainage pipe, and one of my kids had been showering upstairs at the time. Having water leak into the wall every time my kids showered would have been unacceptable, so I did the only logical thing: I stopped letting them shower. No, I mean, I cut out a small square of the wall so I could get to the pipe, and I plugged the hole with PVC cement. Then I did what I consider a great job of fixing the cavity in the wall: I hung a picture in front of it. And I've got the discolored thumbnail to prove it.