Let’s face it – Stuff Breaks!!

Jules is all over this one!!!
Lets face it stuff breaks!!  The more stuff you have the more stuff breaks.  Fixing things around the house when they break and you’re busy or don’t have the skills to do the repair can be a very inefficient process.  It can eat up lots of time and generate a great deal of anxiety leading to worry, frustration and stress.  When the “check engine” light comes on or the LED reads oil maintenance required what do you do?  You know the car manufacturers all want you to run the car right over so they can rack up more unnecessary service charges.  When should you really bring it in?  How long will you drive with the Oil Maintenance readout flashing red before you take it in?
If you have a computer network set up in your house you know how challenging and time consuming that can be to keep up and running.  When someone cries out “it won’t print” and begins ripping the printer apart and the only person who knows how to get it working is away on a business trip, what do you do?  When someone cries out “the whole Internet must be down cuz my Hulu episode wont download” and the same person who knows how to power cycle the cable modem is still away on the business trip, what do you do?

Even just getting the TV to turn on when the person who configured the “one button easy to use home entertainment system” is not available can become a family tragedy in a manner of minutes.

Plumbing problems.  OMG.  Don’t even want to go there.
Have you ever tried activating your home security system when it reads “trouble in zone 3”.  What is “trouble”? what is zone 3?  What does it mean “do you want to bypass zone 3”?  All these sorts of problems occur daily and cause family members great anxiety and stress not to mention the potential for damage if a plumbing problem is not fixed in a timely manner.

All these sorts of problems eventually get resolved but at great expense and I’m not just referring to dollar expense.  The worry and stress cost is far greater in many cases.  You can definitely waste money by not fixing these things in the right way and in the most cost efficient way but you can induce a great deal of worry and stress by not handling them promptly and efficiently.

Lets start at the high level – The first philosophical question is are you a “do it yourself” kind of family or NOT.  If you take pride and derive personal satisfaction from personally fixing things then you will want to identify from the list below those things you are capable and willing to tackle yourself.  If you’re not the Do it yourself kind of family then you need to put a system in place whereby you can quickly diagnose problems and know who to call, email, text or whatever to get the issue fixed.  My advise here is to not “kid yourself” when it comes to what you truly have the skills and time to fix.  You can create huge amounts of frustration for yourself and those wanting and needing something fixed if you think you can do it but you can’t.  You can spend many hours and even days trying to fix something to only in the end give up and call in the expert.  Not to even mention the possibility of making it worse and costing you more than if you had just called in the expert up front.  As an example plumbing is one of those areas for me I will not touch under any circumstances.  I’ve yet to tackle a plumbing issue with any success and 9 out of 10 times I manage to make things worse by the time I call in the plumber.  Know your limitations.

Now lets categorize things you might own that will need fixing and/or regular maintenance to avoid the emergency problem:

  1. Anything with an engine.  This includes Cars, motorcycles, RVs, Boats, lawn mowers, snow blowers, snowmobiles, etc.  All these items will require some form of maintenance and are not generally items you just through out when they break.  You are most likely to repair them and expect to own them at least 5 to 10 years.
  2. Major appliances you depend upon.  This includes heating and AC, Hot water heater, Refrigerator, Stove, Oven, Microwave (most important to me), Clothes Washer and Dryer, Dish Washer, garage Door opener, etc. These are also items you will not simply toss out and replace when they break.  These are items you cannot live for long without.  Will need immediate repair if they break and will also need some form of regular maintenance.  Some much more than others.
  3. Home electrical and plumbing (including natural gas & Oil burning systems).  When problems occur in either of these areas urgent attention is required and in most cases by a professional.  Faulty wiring can lead to fire and plumbing issues can lead to vast amounts of water damage.  We’ll build the list of contractors later in this blog but this is one aspect of  life you must have a good relationship with a  good electrician and a good plumber and they both need to be available on short notice.  If you take nothing else away from this blog post take this one.  Make sure you have a plumber and electrician on notice at all times.
  4. Essential electronics.  Lets face it we now live in a completely wired world.  Access to the outside world from home is essential for our jobs and for our personal lives.  Can’t live without it.  Therefor it’s essential we are connected to the Web from our homes at all times.  Most of our home security systems are now connected to emergency centers via the web or minimally phone connection.  Therefore our personal home security also depends on connecting to the outside world.  Within the home most of us have set up some form of a network for all devices to communicate with each other, share components like printers and connect to the outside world.  All this stuff needs to work properly and around the clock.  If you’re like me (in this business) you love setting this stuff up, getting it all working and maintaining it.  I love it!!  The more problems the more fun I have.  That is until there’s a problem I can’t fix.  Yikes!  then it’s not fun for me or those members of my family who now can’t do their homework (all in the cloud) or my wife who can’t complete her report cards (all on school servers).  If you’re going to do this yourself be sure whoever does it devotes the needed time to train the rest of the family how to use it and how to recover from the common problems likely to crop up.
  5. Non essential electronics.  Stuff like the TVs and related AV equipment, video game consoles and other pure “entertainment” devices.  This is very painful for me to say but it’s not the end of the world if I can’t watch the Knicks and Jeremy Lin tonight.  Painful – yes, the end of the world – NO.  These are all things that need to eventually get fixed but can usually wait for the time or the skills to arrive.
  6. Outdoor items and systems.  This includes gutters, downspouts and drainage.  Irrigation systems, pools, spas, BBQs, etc.  All stuff that will break and some which requires regular maintenance.  Anything that involves water should receive special attention.  Neglecting gutters can lead to water runoff that leads to ground erosion and damage to the house foundation.  Neglecting the irrigation system can lead to leaks and excessive watering running up your water bill and wasting scarce water.  Irrigation leaks can also lead to ground erosion and foundation damage.  Same applies to Pools and Spas.  Faulty BBQs can lead to fires.  We have 3 friends that have had major fire damage caused by problems with their BBQs just in the last 5 years.
  7. Miscellaneous indoor issues.  There is an endless list of other things in the home that will need attention.  Tuning piano, fixing squeaks, doors, windows, painting, cabinet doors, chipped counter tops, burned out light bulbs.  The list goes on and on.  Many of these issues you can tackle yourself if you like this stuff.  But in many cases you simply need a “handyman” on call to be working through a list of small non time critical issues.  Having a good relationship with a skilled handyman is essential.  When a problem does not fall into any of the 6 categories above this is the person you call.  If the handyman (or woman) is really good they may be able to tackle some of the issues in 1 to 6 above but don’t make it a requirement.

Okay, so what do we do about all this?  Step number one is to build a contractor list.  Needs to include the following (Contact number and name, email and emergency number):

Note: don’t just merge them into your primary contact DB.  When you need to you will not likely be able to find them.  make this a separate contact list.

  1. Plumber
  2. Electrician
  3. HVAC maintenance and repair (including solar if you have it)
  4. Appliance service – Find a service provider that services all the brands of appliances you have in the house.  Hopefully you can find one that covers all the brands you have but it may take 2 or 3.  They must be trained and authorized to service the brand appliances you have.
  5. Tech geek from somewhere like Geek squad or a neighborhood kid that really understands this stuff.  Further on in this blog I will talk about some simple fixes that cover multiple problems but you should have a backup in case you can’t get it working.
  6. AV service company that services Entertainment gear.  Often this same service company will do security systems.  No need to go to an ADT anymore for home security.  We use Trojan Systems in CA.  They started on the new modern technology platform and do a great job with security and all in home electronics.  Oh by the way they’re 30% less expensive than ADT just for home monitoring/security.
  7. Garage Door Maintenance and repair.  Most garage doors weigh upwards of 500 lbs.  When the opener breaks you’re often stuck unable to open it.  This can be a problem.
  8. Pool/Spa maintenance and repair
  9. Car maintenance – Either the Dealership or a local Auto Mechanic
  10. Small engine repair – There are service shops that will make house calls to maintain all small engine items like lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snow mobiles, boat engines, etc.
  11. Handyman
  12. Gardener
  13. Housekeeper

Step #2 is to build a list of all items that require regular maintenance (The list should include the Item description, Date purchased, Date last serviced, Brand, Model number, Serial number and Warranty information):

  1. Cars
  2. HVAC & Water Heater.  Make a note as to whether each is Electric or Gas.  You would be shocked how many people don’t actually know.
  3. Appliances
  4. Small engine items
  5. Pool equipment (Filter, heater, etc.)
  6. Garage door opening systems
  7. Renewable energy systems (i.e. Solar systems)
  8. Include simple use instructions for things you don’t use regularly like how to program the HVAC thermostat or how to set the home security system.

Step #3 is to build a maintenance Schedule:

  1. Cars.  My rule of thumb is “light on” plus 3K miles.
  2. HVAC & Water Heater – Every two years until 10 years old then every year.  Watch your gas bill for evidence of leaks.
  3. Appliances – Once every 3 to 5 years
  4. Small engine items – Once every 2 years
  5. Pool/Spa equipment (Filter, heater, etc.) – once per year
  6. Garage door opening systems – once every two years as long as you go around and tighten up all bolts every 6 months.
  7. Renewable energy systems (i.e. Solar systems) –  once every 3 to 5 years.
  8. Gutters and downspouts – Gutters cleaned out once per year.  Downspouts every two or three years.
  9. Irrigation system checked once per year.  Watch your water bill for evidence of leaks.
  10. Set a schedule to replace HVAC air filters – At least every 6 months and best every 4 months if house being used regularly.  If it’s a house not used regularly adjust according to use.
  11. Set a schedule to replace Smoke detector batteries.  If you use the 10 year life 9 volt batteries plan on changing them every 6 years.  If you use the regular 9 volt batteries plan on changing them every 2 years.  Take one year off each of these estimates if you want to be 100% sure you’re not awaken in the middle of the night by one Chirping at you.

Step #4 Maintain a list of all other items that don’t require regular maintenance for warranty purposes and home inventory purposes:
Note:  Most of these items will likely just get replaced rather than fixed or maintained.  Many break during warranty and should be at least partially covered.  This includes AV equipment, iPods, smart phones, tablets, WiFi routers, printers, etc.  Even includes most computers.  I counted 54 items in our possession that came with a warranty.  Guess how many of those warranties I could locate?
(The list should include the Item description, Date purchased, Location of purchase, Brand, Model number, Serial number and Warranty information):

  1. All electronic devices.  Anything that needs to be plugged in to charge should be listed.
  2. Athletic equipment
  3. Furniture
  4. Art
  5. Musical instruments
  6. Collectables like Wine, coins, art, etc.
  7. Miscellaneous items costing more than you want to just throw away if it breaks.
The aggregate of these item inventory lists will make up your home inventory required by most insurance companies should you need to file a full loss claim against your home owners policy.
I’m going to conclude this post with some random tips to help in managing the myriad of problems that come up when thing break:
  1. If you KNOW you can fix it yourself do it.  If you’re not sure, call in the specialist unless you have significant amounts of time on your hands.  At least 3X the amount of time you think it will take to fix it.
  2. Gas related problems.  Most often it’s the pilot light that’s gone out.  Many times just because condensation builds up in the gas line and eventually puts out the pilot light.  Each appliance is slightly different so it’s best to consult the manual but in general you will need to cycle the gas control by first turning the gas knob all the way up then immediately all the way off and then to the pilot light setting and try starting the pilot light.  My experience (limited to my own home) is that this solves it 90% of the time and no call to the plumber is needed.  If this does not work don’t mess with it and call in the plumber.  Be sure the gas control knob is off when you give up on the Pilot light fix and are calling the plumber.
  3. All electronic devices that contain computer chips.  This includes laptops, smart phones, networking equipment, internet access devices like cable modems, printers, etc.  The quickest and easiest way to solve most problems is to restart them.  Soft restart first then power cycle restart where you are certain all power is shut off to the device before restarting it.  This means removing all batteries as well as unplugging it from the outlet.  This is particularly important with devices that have battery backups like cable modems also providing phone service.  I would suggest that at least once every 6 months you go around the house and shut off every electronic device and then go back around turning them all back on one at a time.  Computer equipment is very temperamental and over time just accumulates bad habits.  A full reboot is needed on a regular basis to flush out these bad habits.
  4. General Plumbing.  As I noted below this is one area I simply don’t mess with.  Call in the expert.  Water can cause a lot of damage very quickly.
  5. Electrical problems.  check the obvious GFI button to be sure it hasn’t tripped.  Bathroom items like hair dryers can trip it easily.  Then go to the circuit breaker and see if its flipped in the opposite direction of all the others.  If it has flip it back over and see if problem is solved.  Anything beyond these two easy fixes call in the professional.  Touching the wrong wire at the wrong time can be devastating.  Unless you really know what you’re doing to go there.
  6. Small engine problems.  Usually something won’t start.  First make sure you’re following the right startup steps.  If you don’t use the thing very often there might be one more switch you need to slide over to set it properly for starting.  Might be an engine shut off or fuel line shut off valve.  Make sure you’re using the choke properly.  Consult the directions.  Often a piece of equipment you don’t use regularly.  Next place to look is the gas.  Gas goes bad in 30 to 90 days depending on the engine’s sensitivity to gas gone bad.  Drain the gas and put in fresh gas.  Not the gas from the same can that’s been sitting there for 6 months.  It goes bad in the can just as fast as in the engine tank.  If this does not solve the problem then clean the spark plug or replace it.  If it’s still not starting you might change the oil.  If none of these gets it going it’s time for service.
  7. When trying to make adjustments to major appliances like say the Fridge, consult the directions carefully.  Don’t just start pushing buttons assuming it’s obvious how these things should be adjusted.  All instructions are now online and if you built your list of appliances properly (as detailed earlier in this post) you will have no problem finding them online.  In fact you’ll find them much quicker than going into a filing box somewhere in the garage that may contain the original instruction manual.  When you do find them bookmark them in a folder of bookmarks appropriately marked.

It’s my firm belief that how you go about fixing things that you know will eventually break has a lot to do with your overall stress and anxiety level and filters into many relationship dynamics in the family.  Take this stuff seriously!  More to follow…
All comments welcome.  Sorry about the length of this one.