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How the Internet Turned Me into a Home Repair God

Dan Tynan
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech
May 26, 2014

How the Internet Turned Me into a Home Repair God

Dan Tynan
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech
May 26, 2014

There were O-rings to the left of me, dish trays and mounting brackets to the right. I was sitting in the middle of my kitchen floor, surrounded by spray arms, sump gaskets, and valve flaps. It looked like my dishwasher had spontaneously exploded.

It was at this moment my lovely wife entered the kitchen.

“Oh my god,” she said. “What have you done now?”

“Not to worry,” I mansplained. “I have the Internet on my side.”

The problem I was solving: Dishes had been coming out dirtier than when they went in. I was looking at a $100 repair bill, minimum. So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

(eldeeem/Flickr)

Now, I am not the most mechanically inclined guy you’ll ever meet, as my wife will attest. But I wasn’t worried, because I had a 10-minute YouTube video from The Handyguys podcast playing on my laptop, showing me how to take Humpty Dishwasher apart and put it back together again. And about 30 minutes later, the job was done.

Granted, I was only cleaning the thing out, not rebuilding the motor. But over the past few years I’ve managed to successfully install electric lights, hang doors, cut a hole in the wall to remove a dead rodent (even more disgusting than it sounds) and then patch it back up, install a sink, mount a projector to my ceiling, and more — all with the help of free Internet how-to videos. I have yet to electrocute myself, burn down the house, or drown.

See also Tynan’s Top Ten Rules of Home Repair

Better yet: These Internet how-tos have saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in repairs, as well as helping me avoid the viewing of untold numbers of plumber butts.

Getting your fix
When it comes to home-repair tutorials, YouTube really is king. It seems like every Joe or Josephine with a power tool has posted some kind of how-to video. The problem is sorting through them all. A search for “fix leaky faucet” turns up nearly 50,000 videos.

I often will run through a dozen or more videos before I find one that addresses the problem I want to solve (and that isn’t so poorly lit that I can’t see anything). But there are scads of other options.

One of my favorites is Jeff Patterson’s Home Repair Tutor. The relentlessly cheerful Patterson offers videos on a wide range of home repair topics, including basic questions like how to keep your bathroom sink from stinking, which you’d be too embarrassed to ask the cranky old dudes at the hardware store. Each tutorial also includes lengthy (and equally cheerful) text explanations and copious illustrations. The only problem? There’s no easy way to search the site for the fix you need.

Another great site is The Repair Clinic, which offers advice on home appliances. There are no step by-step tutorials, but it’s great for troubleshooting guides, like 18 possible reasons why your lawn mower won’t start (found here) or the nine things that keep your air conditioning unit from getting cold (here). The Repair Clinic also excels at locating parts. You’d think it would be easy to find, say, a door shelf bin for our Samsung refrigerator (which continually breaks). Searching the Samsung site for this information is a nightmare; The Repair Clinic makes it easy, and sells the part at a competitive price.

Then there’s Hometalk, a site of user-generated content that blends elements of social networking with a healthy helping of do-it-yourself tutorials and a splash of Pinterest. You sign up and choose what topics you want to follow (like Design & Decor or Home Maintenance & Repairs). As posts enter your feed, you can like them, comment, or clip your favorites to your own board. You can ask questions — like how to fix a sticky front door or a leaky shower — and get answers from some of the other 4 million Hometalkers. Hometalk also has a service where you can search for professionals who’ve posted their profiles to the site, who are then rated by the community.

In living color
Sometimes, though, you need help from a live human. For example, the aging plaster ceiling in my living room is cracked in several spots and threatening to flake off. I don’t particularly want to start chipping away at it and end up having to replaster the entire ceiling. Frankly, I wanted to figure out if I was up to the task or if I should hire a pro. So I turned to Helpouts by Google to get some advice.

Helpouts are essentially Google Hangouts, only instead of video chatting with friends or work colleagues, you talk to experts, usually for a fee. (I recently wrote about Google Helpouts for parents here.) I searched Helpouts for help with drywall repair (a search for “plaster” came up empty) and made an appointment with Hector Rodriguez, a self-taught handyman based out of Chicago. The next morning I spent 30 minutes and $15 chatting with Rodriguez on my iPad. I showed him the cracks using the tablet’s camera, and he offered some good advice (use drywall screws to anchor metal screening over the cracks, and then cover it with a fast-drying joint compound).

Rodriguez says he helps three or four people a week on Helpouts and will occasionally walk them step by step through a particular task. In general, though, I think video tutorials are a better call for figuring out what to do, if for no other reason than you can watch them over and over to make sure you’re doing it right. Live help is more useful when you run into a problem you can’t suss out and need answers right away.

Help yourself
I decided that, while the plaster job was probably within my limited skill set, as a busy Yahoo Tech columnist I just didn’t have the time. So I need to find a pro. Fortunately, this is the other way the Net excels when it comes to home repairs — it lets you find skilled help quickly and relatively cheaply.

You can go with the popular user recommendation sites like Angie’s List ($9 annual subscription), Yelp, or Google local business reviews. My experience with these has been mixed. You never really know who’s writing these reviews, or if the site is censoring some of them. And one person’s dream HVAC repair firm is often another’s nightmare.

A new site that avoids many of these problems is WhoDoYou (as in “Who do you recommend?”), which mines your Facebook friends’ posts for recommendations on professional services and then ranks them based on user reviews. WhoDoYou just launched about a month ago, so there’s not a ton of content in my area yet, but I’m keeping an eye on it.

Lately I’ve been trying out Thumbtack. You enter the details of the job you need done and then wait for local contractors to bid on it. We have an interior paint job I also won’t have time for; I posted it on Thumbtack and got five bids ranging from $300 to $800 in less than 24 hours.

eJobba is similar to Thumbtack, though a key difference is that you state your proposed budget for the job up front and wait for contractors to underbid. I just posted another job there, and I’m still waiting for the bids to come. Check back with me in a week or two and I’ll let you know how that went.

There’s also the new site Pro.com, which will give you a price estimate for a whole job jar of tasks you’ve been putting off. (See Pro.com Tells You How Much Those Home Repairs You’ve Been Putting Off Are Going to Cost.)

Bottom line: I may not really be a repair god, but I’m no longer such a clod. And I have the Net to thank for it.

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.