Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

How to Save Money on Appliance Repair

Last night, I saved Sweetie and me about $200 with a fairly minimal amount of effort. Sweetie has a fancy fridge-- not a super-expensive SubZero or anything like that, but a not-cheap fridge with a few extra bells and whistles. So it's been very annoying that it has "broken" a few times over the years, and Sweetie has had to call an appliance repair guy at a cost of about a couple hundred dollars each time.
The last time he visited, the doorman who let him in said the guy had spent a lot of time defrosting the freezer with a hair dryer. So this time, when the fridge started losing its cool, I looked up that model online and found various websites with people discussing the problem. It seemed very likely that the auto defrosting wasn't working and that a build-up of ice was the culprit. With an old-fashioned cheapo fridge like I used to have, this is an easy problem to spot-- you look in the freezer and you see a hardened snowbank where the coils would be. You then attack it with a hairdryer and an icepick until it melts. But with these new-fangled fridges, all that stuff is hidden away, so you have to figure out how to open up whatever's covering them. This is where diagrams and manuals on the internet really help! Within a few minutes, we had figured out how to remove a back panel in Sweetie's fridge to reveal the iced-up coils in all their glory and started blasting them with a hairdryer. A few hours after that, the freezer was nice and cold again, all cleaned out and ready for us to buy new ice cream to replace the ones that leaked out all over everything.
This is just one example. I've fixed washing machines, lighting, toilets, faucets, clogged drains and more and saved hundreds of dollars in the process. And probably bragged about it in many other posts on this blog, because I'm always so psyched when it works!

So here's my simple tips:

  • Watch and learn! If you have a home repair that you don't know how to tackle, and you do call a repairman/plumber, etc., pay attention to what they do when they get there. I've learned so much by watching what they do-- some problems tend to repeat themselves, and it's great to know that next time, I can just emulate something simple that I saw a professional do. I also grew up with people in my family who liked to do their own repairs. I took an interest in such things at an early age, and learned a lot of tips I still remember. If you have kids, teach them these skills-- it's not just a money-saving lesson, it teaches responsibility and self-reliance. Not to mention that it can be helpful to have an extra set of smaller, more agile hands, and it can be a fun bonding experience.
  • Use the internet! It's amazing how many questions you can answer with a simple online search. "Why isn't my freezer cold?" "How can I stop my toilet from running?" "How do I rewire a lamp?" These and so many more questions are discussed at length in online forums. If you know the brand of model number of your appliance, add that to your query and you may be able to find specific diagrams and videos showing you exactly what to do. Not everyone who contributes to these discussions is always right, so check a couple of sources rather than just relying on the first answer you see.
  • Be careful! If you really aren't sure what you are doing, proceed with caution. You don't want to flood your house or get electrocuted. Turn off the appliance, unplug it, turn off the circuit breaker, make sure you are prepared with the tools you'll need like pliers, or a bucket and some towels. Have a friend there to help in case anything goes wrong. Go slowly, and take notes if necessary to remember how to put things back the way you found them.

For so many minor household repairs, significant expense can be avoided with just a little common sense and a willingness to figure things out. And aside from the financial benefits, there's such a feeling of satisfaction when you can say "I fixed it myself!"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Pitfalls of Saving Money

I haven't had a chance yet to link back to this New York Times article, which hit the front page:
Even to Save Cash, Don’t Try This Stuff at Home

When the toilet in Carol Taddei’s master bathroom began to break down a few months ago, she decided it would be cheaper to buy a new one than pay for repairs. Ever frugal in this dismal economy, Ms. Taddei, a retired paralegal, then took her economizing a step further, figuring she could save even more by installing the new toilet herself.

Initially, things looked good with the flushing and the swishing. That is, until the ceiling collapsed in the room below the new (leaky) toilet. Rushing to get supplies for a repair, Ms. Taddei clipped a pole in her garage. It ripped the bumper off her car, and later, several shelves holding flower pots and garden tools collapsed over her head.

“It just kept getting worse,” Ms. Taddei said, ruefully describing what came out to be a $3,000, three-day renovation at her suburban Minneapolis home, finished by a professional from Mr. Handyman, a home repair service that takes emergency calls.

Reminds me of my Rule #9: DIY vs. PAY! Plumbing is not for everyone!

Frugal Zeitgeist was all over this one too-- and yet she is commencing some bathroom repairs anyway!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Should I Buy a Power Drill?

As fin_indie warned me, I may be developing an addiction to tools. For a long time, I have had a basic toolkit consisting of some screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, and a hammer. I've also had various hooks and screws and tape-measures lying around. And that was usually enough to cover my DIY needs, which basically consisted of hanging framed pictures... until now. So far, my home improvement projects have consisted of painting, caulking, sawing myself a new towelbar, installing a new doorknob/lockset, and tightening a loose wire in my circuit breaker panel (don't worry, I knew how to do it without electrocuting myself!) I've already probably saved myself a couple thousand dollars by not hiring people to do these things for me. And I've only had to spend maybe a couple hundred dollars, mostly on painting supplies and a hacksaw.
But now I have projects in mind for which I'll really need a power drill, namely installing some curtain rods and shelving systems in my closets. So should I buy one?
It might be a nuisance to have to borrow a drill, as I'll need it over a period of a few weeks, probably, and I don't know if my uncle can spare one that long. And since he is a professional, he might have heavy duty drills that would be a bit unwieldy for me to use. And I don't think any of my friends could lend me one. And how much could a power drill cost? I had this idea in my head that it should cost $30. Or maybe $50. Whenever I get these kinds of ideas, I'm usually way off from reality-- like I tell myself "socks should be $2!" when I'm shopping in places where they're $7-10 and up.
However, at Home Depot, there were actually some drills starting at $29.97 and $49.95, though many were quite a bit more. Almost all of them are cordless, but I actually don't think I want that-- the battery packs seem to add a lot of extra weight, and given the size of my apartment, I can reach almost anywhere without an extension cord! I did a little research on the Consumer Reports website, which mainly rated cordless drills. There was a lot of talk about how many volts you need to have enough torque and all that, but nowhere do they say how much torque one really needs to just put a few sinkers in drywall or tile. So I'm not quite sure what to do. I'll probably talk to my uncle about it this weekend and get some advice. I don't want to spend extra money and clutter up my closets with unneeded tools... but then again, sometimes it's just handy to have things, and a drill is pretty basic-- it's not like I'm shopping for a bench saw or a lathe. And my $7 hacksaw made me so happy, I think I'd just be over the moon if I bought a power drill. My apartment would probably look like swiss cheese within a week.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rule #9: D.I.Y. vs P.A.Y.

Okay, this may be the wishy-washiest rule ever. But I guess I think of my rules more as philosophical cattle-prods than actual strict instructions.

  • Don't pay someone else to do what you can easily do yourself
The thing that comes to mind first when I think of this rule is salad dressing. Who needs $5 more, Paul Newman or me? Why would I buy someone else's bottled salad dressing when I can make my own delicious concoction in about 30 seconds with simple, inexpensive ingredients? (Recipe: one clove crushed garlic, big pinch salt, a few grinds of pepper, dash of balsamic vinegar, about 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, about 6 tbsp olive oil. Shake in a jar and then pour on.)
Here's a few other things where this part of the rule applies:
Do my own nails vs. going to a salon
Walk or take the subway instead of taking a taxi
Clean my own home instead of hiring someone else
Paint my own walls instead of hiring a professional
Buy unfinished furniture and stain & varnish it myself
All of these are things I don't mind doing and can do well.

But that brings up the flip side to this issue:
  • Pay others to do anything that you might really f**k up!
When I lived with my ex-, we had a toilet that was constantly running, wasting lots of water. We read our various books and decided it was easily fixable. Well, 3 hardware store visits later, at 9pm on a Sunday night, I was in tears in front of a dismantled toilet and wishing we'd just called a plumber. We did eventually manage to fix the toilet before either of us had to pee in a bucket, but with the extra money we'd spent on non-returnable parts that didn't fit, I think it would have been worth it to call a professional.
Obviously, different people have different skills. If you are good at household renovations, of course you'll save lots of money doing them yourself. But if you're not so good, you may end up incurring extra costs, not to mention the potential for personal injury!
This relates to a recent post at The Happy Capitalist about garage doors and financial planning as do-it-yourself endeavors. He makes the great point that money management is an area where many people don't seek out professional help but probably should. I am an example of this, I think. I (hopefully) have enough basic financial knowledge not to do anything rampagingly stupid with my money, but I could probably get higher returns from my investments. Years ago I told myself I should see a financial planner, but the one whose name was given to me apparently worked on commissions rather than a fee, and the friend who used her felt like she'd been steered towards particular funds for biased reasons. I do pay an accountant to do my taxes--I started doing it when I owned a co-op and my deductions were more complicated. Now that I am renting, I could manage to do them myself, but I trust my accountant to do them better. I'm sure she's found me enough extra deductions over the years to more than repay her fees.

One other factor comes into this rule: time.
  • If you can really make better use of the time, pay someone to do things that take up time
For me, it's laundry. I don't have laundry facilities in my building. I have a busy life. Do I want to be running back and forth to the laundromat down the block and waiting around all weekend when I could be doing other things that actually enrich my life? No. So I put all my stuff in a bag, drop it off, and pick it up when it's done, all clean and folded and smelling nice. It costs more, but not all that much more. I used to do my own laundry when I had machines in the basement, and I'll go back to doing it myself if I have that convenience again. But for now, it's worth it to pay someone else.

When do you DIY instead of PAY? Let's hear it, readers...