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General Repair How Tos & Tips

Updated on June 26, 2012

Toilet Cat Cares not for your "Remodeling"

Cats want to help, but aren't very handy.  Here you see Sydney Vicious helping me install a new toilet during our bathroom remodel.
Cats want to help, but aren't very handy. Here you see Sydney Vicious helping me install a new toilet during our bathroom remodel. | Source

Know Where to Ask for Repair Advice.

Whenever you start working on any household project, it’s best to know what you’re getting in to. The beauty of the age in which we live is that almost any project you can conceive of has probably been done by someone who put step-by-step directions on YouTube.

However, having watched a few of these, I’ve learned that a lot of them are more like How Not To tips. When you need tips on how to do things, the first place to start is where you buy your supplies.

My favorite hardware store is peopled by old guys. The owner figured out that he could hire retired folks with a lot of repair knowledge who wanted to stay busy. He got some very skilled labor and the employees get to do more than putter around in the garden.

While the Big Box home stores are not my favorites, they often employ a fairly good mix of former contractors amongst their high school dropouts. OK, I’m being harsh, but the level of service at these places compared to a small lumber yard or hardware store is often sadly lacking. Still, when you find the right person, they’re often quite helpful. If they don’t know what you need, they probably know someone who can help you.

They’ll often be the ones who can tell you where the best hardware store with the crew of old guys is, too. In a nutshell, your most important resource is your ability to stop and say, “I don’t know how to do this, can you tell me?”

You Can Fake it With Good Resources

I worked as an electronics repair guy for several years. Other than the little bit of physics I remembered from high school and college, I knew no electronics. For real. I faked my way through professional repairs without having a clue what a transistor did or how to read the bands on a resistor.

What I knew was who to ask when I hit something that I couldn’t figure out. That’s the thing that is hardest to learn. You’ll make some mistakes along the way, but you have to learn when to stop, when to ask for help, and know when to stop and have someone else do the job.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The second thing you need to learn is how to measure and take notes. The old adage is measure twice, cut once. That’s what you’re looking for: exact measurements so your work doesn’t have to be modified to actually work. You should also make clear notes on what each measurement is for. If you’re going out to buy paint for your entire house and come back with the wrong amount of custom mixed paint, it can be a big headache.

Likewise, taking pictures of what needs to be changed can be useful when asking for help. Showing the plumbing guy a picture of the thing that’s leaking can help you get the repair parts much more quickly. And if you happen to screw up in a big way, you may be able to find the place where it went wrong and do some modifications and get back to where you needed to be.

Don't Fail to Plan or You'll Plan to Fail!

Now the final thing is most often overlooked: know exactly what you want to do. Have a plan, build a cost estimate, and line out what tools the job should take. Your local how-to guys can look at your plan and see if you missed something. If you wander the isles of the local hardware store looking at everything, you’ll end up with way more than you actually need. You should also investigate renting specialty tools for part of your projects. Do you need an $800 tool you’ll use once? Or would you rather spend $200 to use it for a week?

Ask questions, take notes, have a plan. Those are the three most important things you’ll need on any repair project. When you’re unsure, ask for advice or help. Don’t worry that the work is stopped. Going ahead and screwing things up can cost far more time and money than just stopping and waiting to know how to correctly proceed.


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    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      All this is very good thinking. I'd add that, if you're going to repair household plumbing or electricity, make sure you get some good safety tips first. (I once set up a washing machine and didn't know that the hoses must be tightened with a pipe wrench. What a mess!)

      When I first got a job in computer repair, I opened up a broken computer. It was filthy inside. I cleaned it out, looked both ways to make sure no one was looking, and closed it up. It ran another two years! (Later on, I got into diagnostics and real repair, though mostly through parts replacement.)

    • mattdigiulio profile image

      mattdigiulio 5 years ago

      Hi Doug, thanks for this one! Hope other amateur mechanics (like me) find this!