Sunday, August 12, 2018

Commentary: Is DIY home repair a class issue?

By Mark E Andersen
Growing up my family did not have a lot of money. So when something broke, or something around the house needed to be fixed, or updated, my dad had to do it. My parents grew up during the Great Depression, so they knew how to stretch a dollar, but there was just not enough money for my parents to call a repairman or a contractor. As a child I would follow my dad around watching him work on the house—everything from replacing an electrical outlet to remodeling the back porch, to fixing a leaky faucet. 
When I got a little older I helped put a new roof on the house. The first, and only time I came home drunk in my teens, my punishment was helping my dad rip shingles off the garage on a humid 90 degree day. When I went into the army I went in as a 12B Combat Engineer. I built bridges, pole buildings, among other things. When I got out of the Army I worked in a lumber yard where I learned how to install doors, windows, drywall, kitchen cabinets, and other things. If I could not do it, I could not explain to a customer how to do it. While working at the lumberyard my brother and I installed a new kitchen for my mom, and put in new hardwood flooring. 

There was no YouTube back then, so some of it was trial and error, some of it we learned in shop classes, or just figured it out. We never once considered calling a contractor. It was just not something we would do.
What got me thinking about all of this was posts on the Nextdoor App/website, every day there is a post asking if anyone knows a business, or a handyman who knows how to fix a leaky faucet, replace an electrical outlet, put up a tile backsplash in a kitchen, etc. 
Every single time I read those posts I thought to myself, “Seriously? You cannot replace a light switch,” or “Replacing a cartridge in a faucet it pretty easy, why would you need a handyman or a plumber for that?” Now I know my limitations, I will not mess with my breaker box, and larger plumbing projects. I did however, design, and build my kitchen, as well as laid new flooring in the house.
Now this originally started out as a Facebook post just wondering if Americans had gotten so used to our disposable world that people had just stopped trying to do stuff themselves. A friend sent me an email about that post because it had gotten her thinking. And she made some pretty good points. 
One is, is this an issue of class/Income. If you can afford to hire someone to do it, why wouldn’t you? When I rebuilt my kitchen I looked into it being done by a contractor. But, that literally doubled the budget, putting it well outside of my price range. So I would have no choice but to do it myself. Another point is did you have a parent that was a DIYer? If not, you likely did not learn the skills required to be able to do home repairs and/or improvements on your own.
Another issue, gender, a lot of women in my generation never took shop classes. Early generations of women were not allowed to take shop classes. So, and I am generalizing here please do not roast me in the comments, a lot of women missed out on that experience. In my case my dad taught my brother and I how to do home repairs, but not my sister (although she did learn by watching us).
When I re-did my kitchen the guy dropping off the Dumpster said to me, “You watch a lot of those home improvement shows don’t ya. Ya, know this is going to take ya longer to do, than if you just hired someone, and you are going to end up hiring someone anyway.” Two weeks later when he came to pick up the Dumpster I showed him my completed kitchen, the one I did myself.
You are probably wondering why I wrote this post, as it isn’t political. I did this for couple reasons—one, the more I thought about this the more I realized that the cries for help on Nextdoor are not really about what I thought they were—some if it is a class issue. If you grew up in a home without a lot of money, you had to learn this stuff as a method of survival. Some, no one ever showed them how to do some of the simplest of tasks. Others, have the money to hire someone to do the job for them. 
I know I am going to be a little less judgmental about the posts I see on Nextdoor going forward after thinking about this for a while. 

Editor's note: This article was originally published at the Daily Kos, which stipulates that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified."

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