“You got off pretty cheap,” and other reasons not to call the plumber

I splurged one year and called the heating/cooling place in the spring to hook up my swamp cooler.

As a moderate do-it-yourselfer raised by extreme do-it-yourselfers, there’s usually nothing I can’t do as long as I have access to the internet and enough time (measured in days and weeks, mind you), but—since I hadn’t disconnected the water line or covered it up the previous fall–I figured the swamper was going to be quite a mess.   Plus, I hadn’t quite forgotten the spectacular situation from the summer before, when I had burned myself shuffling on my bum across the roof, only to realize—once I had gotten to the swamper–that in order to get back to the ladder, I would also be burning myself on the way back.   Once on the ground again, I ran into the house—dripping with the swamp cooler water I’d splashed myself with to ease the journey back—and sat for as long as I could on a Ziploc bag full of ice.

So I decided to let the experts take care of it.

The guy they sent was a wisp of a man–short, thin, and quite old—and getting out his ladder things looked really unfair, as in “Of all the darned careers he could have picked, why this one?”  This career that required him to wrestle the 20 foot ladder off the top of his van every day.  Collecting looks of concern on compassionate faces as he grunted and yanked.   Each day, this lesson in humility, again and again.  I was tempted to ask if I could help him but realized that he probably gets that a lot.

Plus, I recognized him.  And I didn’t want to insult him by offering to help him get his ladder right before he started work on my house.   I wanted all his focus to be on doing his job right.

Because he had been out to the house about a year before to fix my kitchen sink water shut-off valve.  And I remembered it perfectly.  

The valve was ancient, and wouldn’t turn, encrusted as it was with layers of water deposits and grime and stubbornness.  And—in true DIY style–I had already nearly stripped the bolt in my attempt to avoid calling the plumber.  And he had fixed it—making small talk—and was packing up, when he saw the box for the new kitchen faucet.

“So what are you doing here?”  Pointing at the box.

“Just replacing the faucet.  The handle on the other one broke so I’ve been using a wrench for a week to turn the faucet on.”  I thought it would be a funny visual.  But he didn’t respond with humor.

“You’re replacing it yourself?”  He sounded surprised.

Trying to defuse what I feared was coming, “Well, they give you instructions in the box.  And they mostly even make sense.”   No laugh.

Instead, he said, “Aw.  You’re doing it yourself.  That’s so cute.”   And proceeded—under the guise of showing me how the experts do it—to install it for me.

He was utterly condescending and bad-mannered, but it would have been out of my mind at once if he hadn’t ended up putting the faucet on backwards.  Requiring me to take the damn thing off, turn it around, and reinstall it.

That had only been a year or so before the swamper call.  So, naturally, I didn’t want to rock this boat.  He needed to focus.

As he went up on the roof that day, he said happily, “This won’t take any time at all.  I do about a hundred of these a day.”   Which—having seen the time dedicated to the ladder situation—seemed an obvious impossibility.

And he was right; it didn’t take him any time at all.

But the next day, the swamper started spraying water in a 15 foot geyser onto my neighbors car.

I didn’t call a repair person for 3 years after the swamper call.   But, last August, the memories had dulled, and I was tired of handwashing my dishes.

My dishwasher had been installed 3 years previously by the Sears people, in what was the most nervewracking 4 hours of my life.  With installation instructions in his hand and many calls to his supervisor for guidance, he wandered around and looked concerned.  Actually, we both did.

But the dishwasher had worked.  For a while.  At which point the question in our house became:  Are the dishes in the dishwasher clean or dirty?   To which none of us knew the answer because—whether it had run a cycle or not—the dishes always looked exactly the same:  Dirty.

So I tried all the internet stuff to fix it but couldn’t get to the filter—what was the last thing to try–so I decided to make the call.  Naturally, to a different service company.

This new guy sat there for 5 minutes, did exactly the same thing I had already done to the dishwasher, and declared it fixed.  One hundred bucks later, he quips, “Well, you got off pretty cheap.”   A month later we were back to square one with the ineffective dishwasher.   It has since been fixed by a new cleaning product that clears calcium deposits out of the water line.

So, I guess that’s a big explanation for why, today, I’m replacing the thermostat, on my own.

My furnace totally shut down last weekend, and we’ve been making do with our gas fireplace and radiant heaters.  It sounds concerning—No furnace in Utah!!!-but it’s definitely not an emergency.

The course of my internet searches this week have been:

“thermal sensor pilot furnace”

“pilot valve furnace lighting”

“gas valve replacement”

“how start electronic igniter furnace”

“how tell thermostat is broken”

And I got it working Tuesday, but it conked out again, which is–thankfully–when the thermostat fell off the damned wall, essentially–tired of easing my DIY’er ego–saving time by diagnosing itself.

And it’s been a funny thing.  To see how steadfastly determined I am not to call a repaireperson. Because I’m hyper-independent anyways, and I always worry that my DIY binging is a sign of dysfunction; a sign that I can’t ask for help when I really need it.

But my parents were the same way.  Teaching me that it’s okay to struggle, and not to expect everything to work perfectly without any effort.  And how not to complain when I had to get up at dawn to feed the calves.  Or hold the light while the car got fixed at dusk.

And I guess I’ve also learned from being a homeowner that even the wave of a checkbook doesn’t always fulfill the desire for things to be easy.

So I’m not calling anyone to replace it for me just yet.  And I’m not going to question whether I’m overly independent.  I’m simply going to have a go at it.  And try my best.  And not judge myself.

Libra Sun, Aquarius Moon; Venus in Scorpio. I think that just about covers it.

3 thoughts on ““You got off pretty cheap,” and other reasons not to call the plumber

  1. Hello Amy

    I talk to people everyday about such issues. I have worked at the Home Depot for 14 years. I love helping people figure things out. I think you should know that most people dont even make an effort to try something themselves. Fear is is the biggest DIY challenge that anyone faces and it would appear you have done that. It might surprise you to know that women seem more willing to try to hook up an electrical outlet than men, in cases where they have never done it before.

    You are also right that your willingness to write a check, while it should be a sigh of relief, sometimes it is just paying someone to just prove that there is yet another thing in life that they suck at. I could tell you some stories. My own mother hired a guy over the phone to landscape her yard and when he showed up he knocked on the door and asked her “Where is the lawnmower?” What the Hell kind of douchebaggery is that? He did not bring anything with him except his own ass (brain excluded)

    Anyway great post and I really was hoping you would have been able to end it with a happier outcome. Sorry for your trouble.

    • Let me not leave this as a cliffhanger then: not only did I fix the thermostat (and it is STILL affixed to the wall), I also repaired my toilet innards (yet again) and still managed to pry the decades-old tub diverter spout off and replace it. By the end of the day, my project success rate was a solid 67%. Not bad for a Sunday.

  2. Thank you for the Happy Ending. I wish you could see the smile in my face.67% beats the shit out of zero. and you cant beat the price.I have actually helped a lady who needed to replace a diverter valve innards. She had to buy a specific ratchet just to remove it. She said well this tool is twenty dollars the plumber is 450 dollars i will gamble. She actually called me at the store to share her success, and went as far as to let me listen to the water change from the tub to the shower.

    I had an asian guy who brought his toilet fill valve in. It happened to be red for whatever reason. The one we had was grey and he was insistan on getting a red one. THEY WERE IDENTICAL except the color. I said “Sir is your toilet made of glass?” He said no but he had better shop around a little more.

    Good Job Amy. I am so proud of you. Nothing smells as sweet as success.

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