House Repair Triage a guest post by Heroditus Huxley
We are in, no lie, a full-on economic meltdown. Times are hard for everybody.
Here’s a hint: they’re always hard for some. My household is single income. I budget hard, and carefully, to get the stuff done that needs to be done.
And sometimes, stuff has to wait.
So. You’ve taken the plunge and become a homeowner. You smile, and you look at your house. Your house. You’re in love with it. And you move in.
And then…the flaws start appearing. Repairs that the previous owners should have done (or, as was the case with our house, were gypped on).
Your money’s really, really tight.
What do you do?
You do what I did. You prioritize. It’s called triage.
I grew up watching MASH. I vividly remember the rapid-fire assessment of soldiers coming in, wounded in horrible ways, and one of the surgeons prioritizing who went in first (because it was a now-or-never chance to save him), who could wait, who wasn’t going to be looked at until last, sometimes because they weren’t that badly hurt, but sometimes because the person doing triage didn’t think they could survive even through the surgery.
You can do the same assessment and use the same kind of bloody-minded reasoning in ordering repairs and maintenance of your own home.
For example: we moved into this house fully aware that at some point, we’d be replacing the roof, given that there was a bleedin’ hole in the roof over the garage, that dripped into a bucket on the steps down into the garage every time it rained. And one of the turbine vents was…bent. And wouldn’t turn. And dripped rain down through the living room. We might have been able to put it off longer if we’d found somebody willing to repair a few spots, but everybody wanted to quote for replacement.
We…couldn’t afford that at the time, so we started socking money back as fast as we could. And placed buckets.
The immediate, as in, must do now, was the drains. We bought the house, moved in, started living here…and the drains started backing up. A lot. Horribly. And immediately.
We called a septic tank pumping service, and they cleaned out the system, then said if that didn’t fix the problem, then it wasn’t the tank.
It wasn’t the tank.
We called a plumber. And the plumber went under the house. And then came back out, giggling. “[Your drain system] is the worst DIY mess I have ever seen. The toilets are the only things done right, and one of those is leaking from a cracked pipe.”
Okay. That…was item number one on the triage list. It was…spendy, but we gritted our teeth and did it. Because every drain was backing up.
Turned out, there was double the length of pipe in the drains that there should have been…at half the diameter they should have been. As in, the plumbers took two days, and took out two linear feet of pipe for every foot they put back.
We did that first because…honestly? The house, with the drainage plumbing we bought it with, was not livable. The washing machine drain overflowing with every load? The sinks making the tubs and toilets back up? The tub making the sinks vomit? Yeah, that wasn’t livable. At all. The roof drips? Those kinda were.
Also in the “not-livable” category was the well pump going out (necessitating the replacement of the pump itself and almost 200’ of pipe) a few years later. Immediate repair required, and done. With much gritting of teeth.
And then…after four years of saving, and living with it…we finally got the roof replaced. There was more that needed done than there would have been if we’d done it immediately (almost all of the decking needed taken off and replaced because it was crumbling—which it wasn’t when we bought the place, even if having the rafters too widely spaced had the decking warped to the point it was visibly wavy). But we did the main part of the roof, and re-covered the porch roof.
We couldn’t afford to do the carport at the same time. Because it needed a complete tear-down and rebuild, and tuition was coming up due within three months.
We took another year to save for the carport (and got a significant boost in the form of a gift). It’s rebuilt.
…the patio roof has fallen off.
The one part of the house that never gave us a hint that it was going to give us trouble. And…it just…fell off. At the end of August.
Guess what’s next on the triage list.
And yes, it’s a list. We’ll need to replace the heat pump within the next ten years or so; the cook stove sooner than that. I’d like plumbing done to do both on propane rather than electricity. But it’s going to have to wait—and wait longer, since I’m going to be rebuilding our emergency reserve from paying for the tear-down of the patio roof, and then next year’s tuition. I’m balancing what needs to be done against what we can afford to do.
The key question is this: what can you live around? What must be fixed now because leaving it undone makes the house unlivable?
Can you live with stairs that moan when there’s weight on them? (Before you say yes, check the structure! And there are almost always temporary fixes that will cost less than full replacement: braces, mending a broken joist AND bracing it, and such.) How about the drains that won’t? The roof that leaks? What can you not live with? What can you afford? What can you patch until you can replace?
Priorities. Priorities are everything.