The Skills of Living

Owning a home is expensive as maintaining a house demands constant effort and expense. On the other hand owning a home is vastly cheaper if you can do many of your own repairs.

The broken drive coupler of a Chamberlain Liftmaster garage door opener
The broken drive coupler of a Chamberlain Liftmaster garage door opener

This comes to mind as I have recently encountered a couple folks who had no idea how to perform simple tasks like jumping a car or very basic household maintenance. Having grown up with tools in-hand this is a concept I have difficulty with. How do you get by? Do you always call a repairman or a tow truck?

One of these people is the tenant of a friend. Since Tom is no longer on island he sometimes asks me to look in on his old house, now a rental, just a few blocks away. A few weeks ago I got a call that the garage door was stuck open. Sure enough a broken belt on the garage door opener, I texted Tom and he arranged for a repairman a couple days later. In the meantime the lady renting did not understand why it did not work despite a drive belt hanging down in the middle of the garage. She had no idea how to even open or close the door without the garage door opener.

Contrasting this are the repairs I have done over this last weekend… Last week our garage door came to a grinding halt partially open. A loud clattering announced it would no longer move.

Not a dire problem. I simply pulled the drive release cord and closed and locked the garage door by hand, in the process remembering a familiar garage door from childhood, one that had no motorized and remote control opener, it was always opened by lifting. Well? In a way it did have a remote control opener, one activated by my mother saying the magic words “Andrew, go open the garage door for me.”

The problem with our opener took about three minutes to locate, two of which involved fetching the stepladder and climbing up to the opener. Right on top, in the open, is a plastic coupler that connects the motor to the drive screw. Except that this coupler consisted of several plastic fragments lying about on top of the motor.

Fifteen minutes and ten dollars later a part is on order, arriving before the weekend. The first task of a Saturday morning was to replace the coupler. Two screws to slide the motor away from the shaft and twenty minutes saw the garage door once again running up and down smoothly. It did take a few more minutes to re-adjust the travel limits… Done.

Checking with Homeadvisor a garage door service call will cost an average of $264 in Waikoloa, about double the average on the mainland, probably correct considering travel time from Kona. It cost me ten and change plus an hour’s work. Since I also fixed a leaking coffee maker the same morning I would call it a good day.

At times like this I wonder again how many kids growing up today have never had a chance to really build or fix things, have never used power tools, do not understand how the many devices they use every day work or how to fix them when they break.

This has alway been a bit of a cause for me, one I try to change, even if only one person at a time. I have always made it clear to those around me that I will teach when asked. In the last week I have shown a fellow employee how to solder copper pipe (successfully!), explained DHCP and IP addressing, and taught basic electrical safety in the workplace.

I realize I have had the precious opportunity to learn so many skills, and I understand the importance of passing along that knowledge.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

One thought on “The Skills of Living”

  1. You are indeed fortunate that you have the background to solve the many little glitches that our living style generates.
    I don’t understand why high school curricula do not include some practical life training, from balancing a check boor to repairing a leaky faucet.

    Meanwhile, props to you for teaching others, just basic confidence that things can be understood is essential and having a good instructor at hand is really the best way to learn that.

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