There Should be a Class in Highschool for This Stuff

Being a homeowner is a funny thing because it opens you up to a whole new world of issues and frustrations that you never realize existed before you were 100% responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of your own domicile. After all, as babies, then kids, then teenagers we’re rarely held responsible for much more than cleaning our rooms, washing our dishes, and maybe loading the washing machine every now and then.

Prime example? Growing up, my husband never had to mow a lawn. He lived in apartments, or houses with small yards that his step-dad didn’t mind mowing himself. Then when we moved in together we lived in a dive (in other words, we couldn’t have cared less about the state of the lawn), then an apartment, and then a duplex for which the lawn was taken care of by the landlady’s son. So when we finally bought our own home and had to deal with the lawn, we realized two things: we needed a lawnmower, and my husband didn’t know how to work a lawnmower. To this day it is one of those lovely moments that I get to hold over his head…walking outside to find him cranking on the pull-cord, cursing like a madman, while failing to hold the safety release bar down. I don’t know if I’ve laughed that hard since.

But the fact is that he just wasn’t thinking because he’d never done it before, and it wasn’t that long before I learned the same lesson. I’d had the back of our dryer apart a couple of times because it kept getting clogged up with lint. So when the drum suddenly stopped spinning, I just defaulted to what I’d been doing all along. I had about a hundred pieces laying all over the basement floor, wondering how the hell I was supposed to get the broken drum belt out through a 2-inch hole that seemed to be the only available opening, when my husband suggested I look for YouTube videos showing how to replace a dryer drum belt. I begrudgingly did so, and found out that literally none of what I’d done was the slightest bit helpful; the top of a dryer will pop open if you release two little clips on the front, allowing you to remove the front panel and gain access to the drum. It would have taken ten minutes to replace the drum belt if I’d done the YouTube step first, instead of the two hours it took me to completely tear apart and rebuild the entire dryer.

This is how my morning went yesterday. How was yours?
What you can’t see in the picture is the several dozen bolts and pieces that are missing from the back as well.

And these are the things you learn once you become a homeowner, because you know what always seems to come with owning a home, even if that home is brand new? Repairs. It’s just one of those facts of life that it seems like something is breaking down all the time. That dryer incident above was only one of five total times I’ve had that dryer torn apart. The ice maker in our fridge has been ripped out three times. We’ve made several adjustments to terrible DYI projects that the previous owners of the house completely mucked up. One day the back-plate in our pellet stove cracked in half out of nowhere.  And once, when we were just on our way out the door for a shopping trip, we discovered a massive leak in the water line in the basement because of a plugged up filter (which, by the way, ruined three kitty litter boxes and a couple of bags of pellets). All of this stuff has occurred over the course of five years, and every one of the incidents required some kind of research and learning on behalf of my husband and I. Neither of us had ever so much as glanced at the ice maker before it stopped working. When the pellet stove back-plate cracked we had no idea where to go for such a replacement (or whether we even could replace it, or if it was one of those ‘buy-a-whole-new-appliance’ situations). It’s one of those things, like how no one thinks about needing a plunger until they realize that they need a plunger…when you’re a first-time homeowner you have no idea how to deal with these non-stop situations until they arise.

So why the trip down homeowner memory lane? Well, to put it bluntly, one of our toilets started draining constantly, so I guess we have to replace the inner tank workings, and I’ve been putting it off because it turns out that stuff doesn’t just pop out and pop back in. It’s a glorious thing, owning a home.

How has your experience with homeowner-ship been? Have you ever been caught totally unawares by a situation you had no idea how to deal with? Any super-funny (in retrospect) stories? Please share!

Keep Calm and Repair On

One of the great truths of life is that unexpected expenses are most likely to arise when one is not in the financial position to deal with them (such as being unemployed). Have you noticed this?

Then again, what at first appears to be an unexpected expense can be easily remedied if you’re willing to put in a bit of work.

A little over four years ago my husband and I negotiated for the appliances to be included in the purchase of our house because we didn’t want to have to deal with going out and buying all new appliances while we were dealing with the stress of moving. It didn’t take us long after the move to realize that this may have been a poor decision, as the previous owners of the house were not exactly easy on their appliances. On moving day my mother and aunt spent over an hour scrubbing the inside of the stove, which looked like it had never been cleaned since the day it was purchased. The washing machine, I soon learned, was similarly treated; there was so much gunk along the top of the drum that I’m amazed no one ever got sick just from being near it.

But we did our best to clean up the appliances and so far they’ve served us just fine. Some of them can be a little temperamental at times, but they’ve, for the most part, worked just fine for the past four years.

Then, yesterday, a couple of months into my and my husband’s joint unemployment, our dryer mysteriously died. I nearly had an aneurysm right then and there because I had literally just put a load of laundry into the washer…a load that contained every pair of pants that I own.

This is how my morning went yesterday. How was yours?
This is how my morning went yesterday. How was yours?

Here’s were a little bit of patience (ha ha ha ha ha…) and Google can be excellent assets. See, instead of traipsing right off to Sears to look for a new dryer and forking over several hundred dollars that we can’t really afford at the moment, I began to dismantle the dryer. I quickly found that the dryer drum belt had snapped, meaning that the dryer couldn’t turn. Two minutes on Google showed that the belt cost about $20. Twenty bucks. Instead of several hundred. My husband looked up a very helpful video that showed how to properly replace a dryer belt, then ran out to get the part (since I had no pants). We had to settle for a part meant for another brand of dryer, but it was identical to what we needed and still only cost $20.

And so, as I stated on my Facebook page yesterday:
“Four hours of working in my pajama pants, about two hundred screws and bolts, half a vacuum canister worth of dust and dirt, one off-brand part, two tetanus-shot-worthy gashes, and an uncountable number of profanities, and we’re drying clothes again. Thank f#$&.”

Don’t get me wrong; every moment I was working on that dryer I wanted to pick the entire thing up and chuck it in the ditch out front of my house. But in the end a little bit of frustration saved us a ton of money. Instead of just rushing out for a new dryer, we took it upon ourselves to see if it was fixable first.

We live in a wonderful age during which instructions for just about anything can be found on Google, and I promise you that the video my husband found could have easily been followed by anyone who was technologically illiterate. The hardest instruction from the video was getting the clips that hold the dryer top down to pop open, and the most difficult part of the actual repair was cleaning out the years worth of dust and dirt that covered every part inside. If they were strong enough to hold the drum up and put tension on the belt arm, my almost-three-year-old daughter and four-year-old niece could have done the repair.

The lesson of the story is that when disaster strikes, keep calm, take to the internets, and see what you can do yourself to get yourself out of a jam. Believe me, even with the frustration that can be involved, nothing will make you feel more confident in yourself than doing a house repair all by yourself instead of wasting a bunch of money on a repairman or a brand new item.