“Sweet Pea” Weighs In on Home Repair

Through the miracle of technology, today’s post is being published in absentia. I am currently on the road (about 5 hours into a 14 hour trip) with Kids A-E, as we are heading to the beach for a few weeks. Sheepdog has graciously agreed to fill in for me, and while he may not be as quick-witted, he certainly is a lot less dimwitted. I am very grateful for his contribution and I certainly second the message that you can do a lot more than you think. Especially when you learn to delegate. Ta-da!

Also, I believe that doing your own work and home repairs will contribute to the de-pussification of Americans, which really needs to happen soon. Nobody does their own stuff anymore. Did you know that they had to add a fight class to basic training in our military because so many new recruits had never been punched in the nose up until that point in their lives? We need to toughen up, people! So start by fixing your own lawn mower. And there’s nothing wrong with a well-deserved punch in the nose.

P.S. Do not think about breaking into my house while I am on vacation. Sheepdog is home with all of the guns and he is always looking for an excuse to shoot someone. Plus, I think that absolutely everything we own is in this car with us right now. Seriously, these kids sure “need” a ton of stuff.


The people who came up with the whole Idiot Series really tapped into a huge market, didn't they?

HOME REPAIR: DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL by honorary guest writer, Sheepdog

In one of the recent posts, Stacy mentioned that I replaced our ailing dishwasher. Don’t be impressed – anyone can replace a dishwasher. Installing a dishwasher is a small job. There are only three connections: electricity, water and the drain. Stacy could have easily done it given a bit of notice and more time. I challenge and encourage everyone to try to do that next home – or auto – repair project on your own. You will probably learn lots and enjoy it more than you think.

I replaced the dishwasher because I hate waste and inefficiency and paying someone to do something I can do myself seems wasteful. Also, I wanted to make sure it was done right. I have had to redo several jobs I paid people to do incorrectly and/or inefficiently. Whenever I am looking at a project, the first thing I do is make sure I am not biting off more than I can chew. You can go online and quickly learn whether the job is beyond your ability. I analyze whether the task requires a technician or a craftsman. I can replace a dishwasher but finished carpentry requires a craftsman, an artist, and I don’t currently have the skills to do it correctly, or the time right now to learn them. But don’t underestimate yourself. Kid A recently helped me refinish our wooden front door and it turned out really nice – and I am proud every time I look at it. Err on the side of trying to do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Worst case scenario, you hire the person you were going to hire anyway.

I am lucky. I learned to fix things at an early age. I grew up in West Virginia. To say rural would be redundant. Things were pretty spread out. I spent lots of time on bikes, mini-bikes and motorcycles. These were fun but also important to get to the ball field or friends’ houses. We didn’t have lots of money and I was hard on equipment, so I had to learn to fix things or be stuck at home. I was also lucky to have a dad that encouraged me (sometimes forced would be more accurate) to help him work on his trucks and around the house. Some of my best childhood memories are of listening to Mountaineer football games on the radio with my dad while we changed the oil, did a grease job or a break job on one of his work trucks. These experiences gave me confidence to do other projects later.

Even if you didn’t grow up wrenching, it’s never too late to learn. When looking at a new project, I usually start on the internet. But it is tough to beat getting help from someone with experience, so ask your mom or dad or a friend for advice or to help. Head down to the local VFW, buy some guys some beers and then turn the discussion to your project. You will be amazed at how many guys would love to help. Just be prepared to be referred to as “Nancy,” “Sally,” or “Sweet Pea” all day. This is part of the fun and a little humble pie is good for all of us. If none of these are available or the options make you uncomfortable, the next time you hire someone, stay while they do the project. Watch and ask questions. Remember, you are paying them.

Once you have decided you are going to do a project and have some information, I suggest applying the following principles to all projects:

  1. Read the directions carefully – This is a habit I developed in engineering school and it applies to home projects too. I usually read directions at least three times: the first time to get acquainted with the subject matter, the second time I highlight and the third I take notes. I almost always supplement the directions with internet research.
  2. Prepare – Think the project through. I assemble all the tools and material I think I will need before I start. This should include things like buckets and towels if you are working on something with water (I always spill some water). Trust me, take the time to learn where all the shut off valves are located before you break the water line.
  3. Plan to fail – Plan enough time to complete the project without having to rush. Anticipate setbacks. Almost every project will have some kind of unanticipated obstacle. A good rule of thumb is that the project may cost double what you expect and take three times as long. This is true whether you are doing it yourself or paying someone.
  4. Relax, take your time and enjoy the process – If you are rushing you increase the likelihood that you will make mistakes and that you will not enjoy yourself. I used to rush through every project. It is a good way to mess up. I remember the time a friend and I replaced the clutch in my mid-80’s S-10 Chevy Blazer. We put the pressure plate in backwards. We figured this out at 10 p.m. and I needed the truck the next day. The four-hour job became a nine-hour job (we stopped to curse… a lot). We were more meticulous the second time. Take your time and the project will go faster – slow down to speed up.
  5. Retreat and call reinforcements if necessary – Ask for help if you get in over you head. No need to trash the equipment or your house. You can still hold your head high. You gave it a shot and you will definitely learn something when help arrives.
  6. Check your work – I test everything before buttoning it up. When I replaced the dishwasher, I left all of the trim off and ran a cycle to make sure nothing leaked before closing it all up. You will usually see problems right away if you made mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to fail. In my experience, too many people (me included) too often let fear keep them from doing things that would be enriching and enjoyable. WIth a little preparation you will be amazed at what you can do. Plus, experience is the best teacher. The more projects you do, the more you will learn and future projects will be easier and less intimidating. What you learn replacing the dishwasher will help you when the garbage disposal dies. You will enjoy the sense of accomplishment in a job well done. I almost always appreciate home improvements more when I do them myself than when I pay someone. The confidence you gain will carry over to other aspects of your life. These projects will help you to continue to learn and grow. So give it a shot and enjoy!