Home & Garden
Some days I feel like I’m juggling so may balls that I ought to be on the Ed Sullivan show (this is an age test, folks). You remember that guy who had a dozen plates all spinning high in the air on little wooden dowels? Perhaps that’s a better analogy, since I’m quite sure that, if I were to rest for a minute or two, I’d be surrounded by shattered china. I’m sure you know the feeling?
It’s this mindset that results in so many of us responding to warnings with hands held up in mime defense, can’t get to it. Don’t have time. I’ll wait until it’s really needed.
But houses don’t wait. They fall apart when their darned-well good and ready and some parts fail in ways that don’t show us until very bad things happen (perhaps flood or fire).
I can’t tell you how often I’ve reported a condition to the cries of “but it’s still working.” If this were the baseline of judgment, I would never be needed and I must confess that by a more Buddhist thinking, I’m not. Things happen. Maybe bad, maybe good. Oh well, that’s life. Frankly, I think we can all do better.
Systems fail or become increasingly dangerous or unreliable at rates that we do not normally perceive. That’s why we go to the dentist on a schedule, rather than simply when our jaw begins to sing. And similarly, we stand a better chance of avoiding the worst of cases when we investigate periodically and consider the words (sage or otherwise) of people who know about these things.
Each of us knows about something really well. I don’t program computers or work on cars later than 1975 (actually, it’s not pretty when I work on older one, either, so I tend to avoid it). So, it’s best to confess our limitations and to consider the dangers (though many are simply financial) of ignoring the many parts that make up our sub- or super-million dollar abodes.
The example that arose the other day was a furnace. I knew that the one I was looking at was pretty near the failure point (although these can vary by a decade) but the client looked straight at me and said “But it’s still working”. True enough. It was still working and furnaces will continue to work as they begin to pump carbon monoxide into the house or start a fire near a hot flue. In fact, if they stopped working when something dangerous was happening, I wouldn’t care so much about having them checked-out, but that’s not the way things work.
The same is true with the brakes on your car. If you’re moderately prudent, you’ll have them looked on a fairly regular basis and repaired as per the advice of your mechanic so that you can rely upon them when the need arises.
Electrical breakers aren’t as reliable as the years roll by, either. In fact, breakers that never trip can be the ones that start fires. Breakers are supposed to trip. In fact, that’s all they do. If a breaker never trips and the current on a particular line is excessive, this can cause a fire, ergo the need for breakers. So, how would you ever know that you need new breakers? They’re not going to call you up and say, “Ned, I’m tired and I don’t think I’m going to be able to protect you any longer. Best to get a younger breaker and send me on a cruise.”
The only thing to do is to get these things looked at by people who know … once in a while.
Another one I like is flood protection. Those who’ve never had a flood in their house are hard sells on flood prevention. Those who’ve been though it (or know someone who has) buy the bill of goods sight unseen. Washing machines cause thousands of floods each year in the U.S. and a few simple measures can prevent tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage (as well as the loss of personal treasures) but the hardest hurdle in surmounting such mayhem is accepting the notion that what has not yet occurred is no predictor of what’s to come.
I’ll wrap this abrasive little diatribe up with one last unpleasant line and it’s my personal favorite because it so fully suits this challenge to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Houses don’t tell you that they’re not ready for earthquakes. This is a very hard set of arguments to make and as the years roll on, it doesn’t get any easier. The problem is that a house that has never been exposed to the force of a really large earthquake gives no sign of its vulnerability. A house may stand erect and square for a hundred years if it has never seen more than a 5.0 earthquake and be irreparably damaged when a 7 comes along for the simple reason that 7s are roughly a thousand time more powerful than 5s.
I don’t really like going to the dentist but the prospect of yet another root canal (yes, it’s true) keeps me going regularly. I also tend to distrust brake shops but, again, I go, hold my nose and do as I’m told (although I may get a second opinion, which, by the way, is perfectly reasonable for your furnace, electrical or seismic issues).
Fires occur to many, floods too, and while no set of habits wipe these off the white board of future history, they can be lessened with prudent measures.
I don’t have any advice for the overly busy as I haven’t manage that one myself but I do observe with stunned awe that some manage to put together lists, plan ahead and call for periodic analysis of their houses. Whether this is done by my ilk (the lowly home inspector) or a range of other experts, getting the varied systems of your house looked at on a semi-regular basis can extend its life, maintain its value and help to prevent small and large disasters that can ruin your day.
The only thing you’ll have to do is to give up that fine (and annoying) whine, “But it’s still working!”
Got a question about home repairs and inspections? Send them to Matt Cantor, in care of East Bay Real Estate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.