The costs of being a homeowner, and other Friday ruminations

I spent the day making house doesn't look like this one.

I spent the day making sure that my house doesn’t look like this one.

I have had a busy day.  The dishwasher sprang a leak that was, thankfully, easy to repair:  the repairman put in a new seal and the leak was over.  He was here for about 20 minutes and put in one 6-foot-long seal.  Thankfully, we have appliance insurance, because he said that, without the insurance, the repair would have cost $250.00 for parts and service.  Yikes!

The dishwasher wasn’t the only thing leaking.  The upstairs bathtub was leaking into the garage.  We had one plumber out yesterday who diagnosed a tub waste overflow and said it would cost $700 to fix.  We politely sent him away.  I called around and another guy said that he thought it would take an hour to fix, at a cost of $250 per hour for labor, plus $100 for the part — but it might be more, and could come up close to $700.  Better, but not good enough.

I called around one more time, and got a guy who said that he’d do it for a flat fee of $350 based on my say-so.

I asked, surprised, “So you’re going to base the price just on what I said?”

He answered with another question, stated in a friendly voice.  “Are you lying to me?”

“Gosh, no,” I said.  “But I’m just telling you what the other guy said.  I didn’t actually see it myself.”

He thought about that for a minute and then said, “Why don’t I just come by tomorrow [Friday] and check it out?”

That sounded like a plan.  He came by, he checked it out, and he announced that it was a simple fix that he could do right away — for $135.  When he was done, he told me, “I’m going to give you a bill, but don’t pay it now.  Keep an eye on things until Monday.  If it’s still good, put a check in the mail.  If it’s not, I’ll come out again, but I won’t charge any more than $350 if we have to replace the tub waste overflow part.”

So far, despite shower use, there’s been no further leaking.

For those of you who live in Marin County, if you’d like this honest paragon’s name, send me an email and I’ll give you the information.  You can probably find him on Yelp:  He’s the guy with 102 five-star recommendations, all saying the same thing:  incredibly reliable, honest, and good at what he does.  I can’t argue with that.  In fact, I’ll be the 103rd five-star recommendation if all continues to go well.

The plumber had scarcely left when the landscape guys showed up.  Our pool, which was the delight of the neighborhood children, is now a dysfunctional swamp.  Built 45 years ago, despite our best efforts to keep it going, it finally gave up the ghost this summer.  As is always the case, once we decided we needed to redo the pool, we realized we also needed to redo the cement surround . . . and, hey, if we’re doing that, maybe we’d better smarten up the whole place.  We hired a landscape designer who came up with a lovely idea that was more expensive than we wanted.  We’ve worked with him, though, and seem to have come up with a plan in our price range.  The only sticking point now is whether the Marin drought will make the whole process impossible.

Droughts make me very, very unhappy. I was in high school when the big drought hit at the end of the 1970s.  Despite living most of my life in semi-arid climates, I love water and I especially love rain.  Not having rain makes me feel emotionally dried-up inside.  I also hate water rationing.  I don’t know what we’d have to do this time around, but I’m sure I won’t like it.  Back in the 1970s, we bathed in two inches of water, and then saved the water in buckets so as to flush the toilets.  My mom captured the rinse load from the washing machine to use to water her garden, but all the plants died anyway.  Everything looked dead and barren — and the toilets smelled bad.  I bet many of you remember “When it’s yellow let it mellow; when it’s brown, flush it down”?  I really hated that.

I know that drought here is a cyclical thing.  It’s happened before and it will happen again, and it will probably be followed by winters with such heavy rains that everything floods.  The floods make for miserable driving, and periodically destroy vast swathes of homes, but I still prefer a wet winter to a drought.

This is just another reminder, as if we need one, that Nature likes to let us know that we are as nothing before her.  We can try to minimize her impact, but we cannot control her.

Anyway, that’s why I haven’t read anything or written anything today.

Thinking about that last statement, it’s not quite accurate.  Oyster Books, which advertises unlimited books (the Netflix of books) is offering a one month free trial.  I thought that sounded interesting, so I signed up, remembered to calendar the date by which I have to cancel if I don’t want to continue with the service, and started reading.  Thanks to this temporary membership, between visits from repairmen, landscape designers, and plumbers, I am reading 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, a delightful social history of New York’s Lower East Side as seen through the food different immigrant groups ate. I love this kind of book (one of my favorites is No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting), and 97 Orchard is well written.

And that’s all.  I’ve a small mountain of bills to pay, so that too will keep me away from my beloved blog.  So it goes.  At least I finished my legal brief, which got filed today.  I think it’s a winner, but one never knows what those judges are going to do….

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  • jj

    The most interesting part of the plumbing story is that you found three guys – in California! – capable of colloquial English with such ease I’m tempted to suppose they were actual American citizens!  Or have you paraphrased them into easy familiarity with the language?

    • Bookworm

      The funny thing, jj, is that the best of the three is from England!  He has a “luvly” Manchester accent.

  • expat

    97 Orchard sounds good. I think I’ll download it to my Kindle. Thaanks for the tip.

  • Old Buckeye

    Book, check out Lawn Gone or Reimagining the California Lawn for ideas on xeriscaping for your yard. I’ve tried to minimize water use myself; ours is one of the few yards not connected to a sprinkler system, yet my grass is healthier and greener than many of the neighbors’ lawns.

  • Ymarsakar

    Your cementing section of the pool, Book, reminds me of various story plots where high school swimming club members have to detox the school pool and re-apply sealant to the cracked bottom in Free.
    I remember when I was in early school in Asia, we were cleaning up the windows of our class room every day or so. I don’t remember why we were doing this, but Japanese anime helps me remember that this did indeed happen and it wasn’t unusual. In a US high school, I kept seeing janitors around and kids throwing away paper trash on the hallways. Now that I think about it all, I really think individuals should be trained to take care of their own place by their own power, instead of relying on adults or superpowers like the US to do it.

  • Gringo

    The funny thing, jj, is that the best of the three is from England!  He has a “luvly” Manchester accent.
    At least you can pick out a Manchester accent. Most of us can only distinguish between Brit, Cockney, and Scots. I asked a local plumber if he were from Louisiana, as he had what sounded like a Cajun accent. Turns out he was from Quebec. His father was one of those Manchester NH [not England] French Canadians. When his father was in the  stationed in Quebec while in  the US army, he liked the place so much he decided to stay.
    I wonder if there is a bit of class resentment operating among those high priced plumbers. Their Marin clients are loaded, so the plumbers figure the rich folk will willingly fork out whatever they charge. Moreover, I suspect that a lot of the affluent Marin folks look down their noses at plumbers and such who earn their living with their hands. The plumbers can pick up on this scorn, and decide to get some monetary revenge on the swells. [Though anyone who has dealt with plumbing problems will have to admit that plumbers need brains, also.]

  • Gringo

    The funny thing, jj, is that the best of the three is from England!  He has a “luvly” Manchester accent.
    Which reminds me of the NYT dialect quiz, which has been making the rounds. It pegged me pretty accurately: New England, where I was born and raised, with a touch of  the South through TX. I have spent the second half of my life in TX.
     Over the years, I have taken a number of dialect quizzes. This one is the best.

  • jj

    Ah, Gringo – Bookworm has sojourned there!  As have I, and we assuredly can spot the difference between a Mancunian and, say, a Geordie, or a Cornishman.  (Well, anybody can tell a Cornishman from anyone else, come to think of it.  Bad example.)  The difference between a Mancunian and the strapping lads from the Dales is subtler, but it’s there, and pretty pronounced if you listen hard enough.  Mancunians and those of us from West Side Common in Wimbledon, on the other hand, can’t even tell each other what time it is and be certain of being understood.  Regional accents in England are, for such a small place, fascinating.  And often funny.  The men of Exeter and the men of York, for example, cannot have a conversation either of them can understand.  They speak the same language, entirely differently.

  • Bookworm

    Gringo:  I did take that New York Times-linked accent puzzle and it got me completely wrong.  I seem to be an idiosyncratic speaker.  I was raised in San Francisco, my friends all came from Asian language homes, my parents spoke German to each other, and I’ve lived in England and Texas.  Apparently I’ve made up my own speech patterns as I go along.

    jj:  When I lived in England, one of my great pleasures was to figure out where people were from based on their accents.  When I arrived, I knew Cockney and Yorkshire.  When I left, I could pretty much nail down most regions.  My favorite accents are Welsh, Yorkshire, and Lancashire, because they have very good associations in my mind.