Thursday, 12 August 2010

Maintenance Free

Well, not really. I used to joke in graduate school architecture classes that "maintenance free" means you can't fix it, you have to replace it when something goes wrong and usually pay someone a lot of money to do so. That's why people selling materials and services often push the maintenance free products.

Our life is not maintenance free. Our lives are simpler for this.

We love old houses. Much the reason I love them is that the materials were built to last if maintained. A piece of siding fails? Replace just that piece. A wooden shingle gets damaged? Replace just that one shingle. Plaster? Patch. People knew how to do the work or they figured it out. Sure there were a few super wealthy individuals who had massive grounds and servants and people who too care of these things, but they were the minority. And likely, they still knew how to do the things.

Then cars came along. At first it was the same principle that applied. People could fix their own cars when something went wrong. Things got fixed, cars lasted longer. They were built to be repaired and maintained.

Now, we take it to the shop or call an expert. The knowledge is specialized. If the work is too expensive, we junk the car or house and buy a new one or move. Disposable. Same with household appliances, they used to be built to be repaired. Buying a new one was a huge deal, fixing the simple engines were cheap and made sense.Now its just easier to send it to the landfill and buy a new one at a big box store. People often throw away perfectly working ones just to upgrade because it is so cheap to do so. We also put our trust and faith in people who are selling us things. We have to trust that they are doing so honestly and that the people we hire are doing the work competently, not that the average person would be able to tell. If you do the work yourself and research and choose your own product, you only have yourself to blame. Your motivation for quality is different. Yes, there are excellent and honest contractors and salespeople and the like, but how can you know until it is too late? The money is spent and more will be spent to repair and replace if something goes wrong early. I see this so often with new houses and new construction projects that I no longer laugh, it is tragic and an epidemic.

We recently applied the same ideology that we applied to our our vehicles. It started out that all of our cars and our farm truck needed major work this past year. It depleted our savings and our resources and got to a point that when the oil needed to be changed and the brake pads started squealing, the answer was to park it and drive just our one car. Until that car had the brakes do out too. The farm truck gets horrible mileage. Driving that was super expensive, plus I needed it at home to haul feed. We had access to excellent and honest mechanics, but just had no money for it.

Then I read a friend's blog where she said that replacing your own brake pads was easy and not expensive. That she could do it herself. Huh? So I suggested it to my dear husband who really really wanted to learn this particular set of skills. I know he had hoped to learn on our farm tractor, but here was a very real need.

So he started with the brake pads. Then the next car had need of those AND a new master cylinder. Success! So then he changed the oil and air filters. He dis some maintenance on the farm truck too. We spent a couple hundred dollars on work that would have collectively cost us thousands that we didn't have. The reality of it was that we would have tried to put it off until we could pay for it and then the whole brake systems would have needed to be replaced or worse. In the meantime we'd be spending more money to drive broken vehicles or the farm truck, not really safe.

By doing the work ourselves, by gaining this knowledge and confidence we CAN keep up our investments of home and auto. We can drive and live in safety and comfort and not defer or delay repairs. We can fix and electrical short, patch plaster, fix the dishwasher and washing machines. We don't have to replace when the warranty runs out and the machine breaks the very next day (though that is still really annoying.) 

With the Internet, these things are easily accessible. There are e-How's and parts can be ordered. There are forums with experts who answer questions. There are pictures and videos. It is all accessible to us.

In the past year, in addition to our recent car repairs, we have fixed both our new dryer and washing machines, the refrigerator twice (saving our food too),  the hot water heater (no small feat since it is a tankless), the free dishwasher we got, and the kitchen sink. None of these fixes were expensive or even difficult, but replacing the items with exact models would have been collectively over $4,000. I think we spent less than $100. Some of these items were just days past their warranties, so less than 2 years old and the hot water heater was in warranty but we lived so far away from a licensed technician that it would have cost us $300 just to have him drive here.

What can you do next time something breaks? Will it break your bank?


  1. Great article, it amazes me how many people in our generation are afraid to get down and dirty and do some of these things themselves.

    My theory has always been, if somebody in a factory could put the parts together in the first place there is no reason why I shouldn't be able to rip it apart and replace them.

  2. Excellent post. We do most of our work ourselves, and it seems absurd that people spend hundreds of dollars to have their brakes replaced, when we know we can do it for about $20. It takes time, it is dirty, but it really doesn't require special skills or expensive tools like companies imply.

    The hardest part for us is paying for something to be done when we are short on time. We need our house re-roofed, but it's hard to pay out the money when we know how much cheaper we can do it, but we can't find the time to get it done. :-)

  3. Very good article. It does seem that things are made to have a very short life and most people toss rather than fix. There is so much we can do for ourselves if we take the time to do and learn.


  4. I think hiring services is such common practice we fail to realize how simple a lot of it is. And sometimes we're too dang busy to even consider it. But DH and I love doing things ourselves. We cringe every time we can't. It's so empowering. And plus we're about as frugal as they come. :)

  5. Danelle, what a great reminder to do more and spend less! My hubby and I are both DIY'ers and we love it! Thanks for linking this to Simple Lives lady!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post. Planned obsolescence is an evil practice. Finding products that are of quality is the first chore. Like with older homes, "good bones" are essential. People learn the skills of repair of of necessity.


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