Thursday, August 4, 2011

Whack-A-Mole Maintenance

 My neighbor and I stood looking at the side of my house, beers in hand, admiring my latest home maintenance project.  "Looks great," he said taking a swig. But I could tell there was a lack of earnestness in his voice that meant he really wasn't sure what I had done.  Being a fellow home owner, though, he wanted to show support.

That's the way a lot of home maintenance is -- it makes problems disappear but you can only appreciate the effort if you had noticed the problem in the first place.  And preventative maintenance that heads off bigger repairs later on is even less noticeable.  It looks the same only more so.

The joys of home ownership include maintaining and fixing things constantly.  You can put this off, but you'll pay the price later in terms of expensive repairs, lots of remedial work, or a lower resale value.  So most of us either learn to use tools or we line up a stable of professionals to do the work for us.  The trouble with the second approach is that (a) pro's can be expensive and (b) they usually don't like small jobs and (c) good ones can be hard to find.

Home maintenance is a game of whack-a-mole, only in this version you pay a lot more to play and the game never ends.  Whack one problem -- say a rotted stair railing -- and another pops up, like the stair tread your foot went through while you were fixing the railing.

Then there's the "one-thing-leads-to another" phenomenon where fixing one small thing becomes a marathon of additional projects that become necessary before the small thing can be fixed -- that small repair becomes a super-sized pain in the ass.  We recently decided to have our living room carpet replaced.  Other than moving some furniture and writing a big check, this required very little on our part.  But of course we realized that before the new carpet went in, we really should re-paint the room.  And before we repaint, we really should put in a new outlet box for the tv and stereo connections.  And before we do that, we really should run a new cable through the wall for connecting the tv to the dvr.  And before we do that, we really need to install another cable splitter in the crawl space.  Etc., etc., etc.

Whack, whack, whack. whack.

A particularly irritating, vexing, and usually expensive aspect of maintenance is the "what the heck is that?" phenomenon when one repair reveals previously unknown problems of even bigger magnitude than the original.  We were once going to put it new flooring in a bathroom, a fairly simple and inexpensive project.  Removing the old flooring exposed serious rot in the wood underneath, requiring ripping out major chunks of the whole underneath structure and rebuilding it.  Hmmm.

It follows that any repair or maintenance project is bound to take way, way longer than you think.  Changing a light bulb?  Plan on several hours.  Doing some rewiring or plumbing work?  Count on days or weeks.  When I call my handy man to schedule help with a project I give an estimate of how long it will take, like "should be quick, just a couple of hours" -- the response is barely suppressed laughter.

It is easy to become despondent, frustrated and overwhelmed by Whack-a-Mole-Maintenance.  However, whenever I begin to feel this way, I remind myself that these days I should be thankful to still have a house to maintain.


zapinc@comcast .net said...

I call them Midas projects. "If whe are going to do this we Midas well do that. All Projects grow hair.

See you Monday.

RS said...

Love the Midas phrase. It also brings up the ballooning cost of any project from the initial estimate.

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