Keeping Home Repairs Under Control

by Helen Laack


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Ever feel overwhelmed by some do-it-yourself plumbing or other home repair hint that seems way beyond what you could ever consider trying? But have you been even more overwhelmed by the high cost of having such work done professionally? Never fear. There are ways to keep to a tight budget and still keep up with home repairs.

  1. Be realistic about what you can tackle and what you need to leave to the pros.

    • In many cities, you may have problems selling your house if electrical, plumbing, and even some carpentry tasks are done by non-licensed people. If in doubt, check with the city before you try to upgrade to a ceiling fan or try to add a bathroom fixture.

    • If a relatively small home repair will require the purchase, or even rental, of expensive equipment, you may end up spending less by having the job done by someone in the business.

  2. Look for references wherever you can find them.

    • If friends or co-workers mention having some work done on their home, find out if they were satisfied. If they were, get the contact information as soon as possible, and if they were not happy with the work, make a note of that too. All of this information can be very handy when the time comes (as it will!) for your own home repairs.

    • If you have any friends or acquaintances (fellow church members for example) who are contractors or builders, ask them who they would pick to do repairs in their own homes. Many of these professionals do not do the small repair jobs you may need, but they do have a good feel for those who are available and are good at what they do.

    • Build your own "yellow pages" with this information. This could be a simple Excel file on the computer or just a recipe box with 3 X 5 cards listing each entry, filed according to the kinds of services provided. If you add to your file every time you have new data, good or bad, you won't have to go blindly to the real Yellow Pages to seek out a provider in an emergency.
  3. "Stock up" your service calls. Repair professionals are facing higher gasoline and other costs just like the rest of us, so their flat fees for making a service call seem to be growing faster than inflation. Sometimes an emergency arises that will require an immediate call, but there are other things that could be postponed until you have several tasks to be done. For example:

    • The hall outlet used only when you vacuum stops working, but you can still clean the hall by using a bedroom outlet. After you purchased a motion sensitive fixture for your back porch light, you realized it required more wiring than you are able to do. Both of these tasks are things that can wait until something more serious arises, perhaps a switch that continually trips the circuit breaker. Now you call the electrician and have him do all three tasks at once.

    • The hose bib on the side of the house has developed a drip, but you just turn it off inside and use other outside faucets for any watering. One of the sinks in your two-sink master bath has a small leak in the trap, but you never use that second sink anyway. Just put a nice plant right into the sink (to keep anyone from inadvertently using it) and wait until the day when a serious plumbing emergency arises.
  4. If you have tried a small repair like fixing a leaky faucet or replacing a worn lamp cord and found you gained a lot of satisfaction from the work, consult your local vocational school or adult education program to see if there are any classes you could take in that area. Not only will you gain some new skills, but also you may meet others who know of reliable service providers to help with larger tasks.

Internal audit, property and casualty underwriting management and human resources management work filled over 25 years of Helen Laack's professional life, while she was also raising three children on a tight budget, doing disaster response volunteer work, and helping others learn how to cook and maintain their households on limited budgets. She is currently writing, teaching Bible study and life skills classes, and continuing work with several volunteer agencies.

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