I was 26 years old. My wife Kathy and I had bought our home a year or so earlier and the water heater was the first thing to break.
At this point in life I had no significant home repair skills; I was certainly not up to plumbing the source of our precious hot showers. So I bought a water heater and called a guy.
Guy came, cut the copper tubing connected to the old heater, dragged the offending appliance out of the house, and came back in with a small propane torch and a few fittings. What happened next changed my life.
Guy lit the torch, soldered six fittings (I’ll never forget, just six) connecting the new water heater to the house plumbing, and turned the water back on. In roughly 20 minutes, he was done.
Well, not quite. He handed me a bill for $250.
I happily paid it and Guy was gone. But over the next couple days a frustration built in me. Not that Guy charged me $250. He was the bringer of hot water; I would have paid him twice that. No, my frustration was with me.
I couldn’t escape the feeling that with a few tools and some basic skill, I could have done that repair myself.
To protect my ego, I then thought, “Well maybe soldering is harder than it looks. Guy was a master plumber. Perhaps I can’t do it after all.” So, I popped down to a friend of mine who grew up on a farm and can do anything with his hands. I asked him if he would show me how to solder copper pipe. He walked into his barn, brought out a torch, some copper pipe and fittings (just like Guy), and in 20 minutes I had soldered my first weld.
It was as easy as Guy made it look, once I knew what I was doing. It was true – with the right tools and someone to teach me some basic skills, I was capable of doing it myself. That was a breakthrough for me and changed the way I saw my relationship to my home and, in fact, my life.
Home repair is expensive and, between the baby boomers retiring and the growing American skills gap, you can expect those costs to rise dramatically.
According to HGTV, Nerd Wallet, and The Balance, among others, you should set aside 1-2% of your home’s value every year, just for repairs.
$250,000 home=$2,500/year=$208/month. That’s 1 percent. Two percent is $417/month. Do you have that kind of scratch?
Think of it another way: How many experiences could you buy with your kids for that repair money? Or buy a car. Or any other enjoyable thing besides a plumbing leak.
Now there are some repairs that you should almost always leave to professionals. But I’m here to tell you that most of the everyday stuff is completely doable. By you.
I’ve never calculated how much money I’ve saved doing my own repairs over the last 15 years, but I can count on one hand the times I’ve called another Guy to the house. Three. And only for major stuff – a new A/C, a new well, and a water filtration system.
Money aside, though, there is another reason why I’m glad I learned to fix my own stuff and why I’m passionate about teaching others.
Competence. Few feelings match the satisfaction of knowing that when it hits the fan, I can take care of it. When something breaks, I have the wherewithal to deal. I know what I’m doing.
Level with me – how many times these days do you feel like you know what you are doing?
And maybe it’s because I’m listening to the Classical Music for the Soul channel on Pandora right now, but there is something downright inspiring about taking a tool in hand and literally fixing my own problems. Something a little more, I don’t know, American.
In a country known for the rugged individual, anxiety is a scourge in America today, which leads to other public health problems like family strife, low work productivity, and depression. It saps happiness and optimism. To my mind, it is an affront to our ideals.
The black root of anxiety is helplessness, the feeling that you lack agency and mastery in your own life. Competence is the antidote. A sense of control over your world—preparedness, skill—is invaluable and increasingly rare. And nothing is more central to our world than home.
Do I think home repair is the end all and panacea for what ails modern society? No, but maybe it’s a start. In an age of debt and insecurity and screen living, maybe learning tangible life skills that save money and build self esteem is a good start.