- I called a repairman when my washer broke, and he charged $100 just to come out.
- To fix the problem, he estimated the cost at $250. But in the hour before he got to my house, I googled.
- From a YouTube video, my wife and I were able to solve the problem and save cash.
My wife and I are fortunate to pay below market rate for our rental home in the up-and-coming neighborhood where we live in Seattle. Our landlord seems to prioritize having trustworthy tenants over getting top dollar, so rent increases have been infrequent and reasonable over the more than nine years since we moved in. Our relatively low monthly payments help keep our cost of living affordable in an otherwise pricey area, but there are some trade-offs.
In particular, we're mindful of how often we approach our landlord about issues regarding the property. If we were paying market rate, we'd have no qualms about raising any and all concerns that are the owner's responsibility. But since we appreciate our situation and want to both express our gratitude and stay on his good side, we try to keep small repairs or other problems off his plate.
That's why when our laundry machine broke down one evening in the middle of its cycle, we were inclined to take care of it ourselves rather than bring it to his attention.
We called a handyman to diagnose the problem
Neither of us is very handy, so we knew “taking care of it ourselves” likely meant hiring someone else to fix it, but we made some elementary attempts to get it running. We tried turning it off and back on again, unplugging the machine to reset the electronics, and checking the basin and piping for obstructions; nothing worked. At a loss for what else to do, we started looking for a repair company.
After making a few calls, we found a repairman who was available immediately. It was $100 to get the guy to our door, and based on our description of the problem (which he guessed was a clogged or burnt-out drain pump), he estimated the repair would cost another $250. That was below the threshold where we'd normally get our landlord involved, so we agreed and gave the repairman our address.
Once we got off the phone, I started searching online for information about washing machine repairs to confirm that the estimate we received was fair (which it was). Having settled that, I decided to look into what repairing or replacing a drain pump entailed.
I looked on the back of our washing machine for the model — a Fisher & Paykel GWL11 — and searched the web for repair instructions. I was surprised to find that what seemed like a narrow search yielded a lot of results, including videos, bulletin board discussions, links to replacement parts for sale and more. I dove in.
During the hour between when we called the repairman and when he arrived, I found one video in particular on YouTube that gave a step-by-step tutorial for how to unclog the drain pump on our machine. The symptoms described in the video matched how our unit was failing to cooperate. I was watching a second time through when the repair guy showed up, and beginning to wonder if calling him had been a hasty mistake.
I shared the tutorial with my wife as the repairman lugged his gear up to our laundry room to diagnose the problem. After about 10 minutes, he confirmed it was in fact a clogged drain pump, and that unclogging it would cost a flat $250 fee. He asked if we wanted him to proceed.
My wife and I looked at each other, uncertain. On one hand, the YouTube video gave us hope we could fix the pump ourselves. On the other hand, we had to admit the possibility we'd fail or even make things worse, in which case we'd need to pay another $100 to get the repairman back out to our house on top of the cost of the repair. We decided the risk was worth taking, so we thanked the repairman for coming by, paid him $100 for the visit only, and then got to work.
We felt confident we could fix it ourselves with the help of a YouTube video
We watched the video again and gathered the tools we needed for the job: our mini shop-vac to empty the washing machine's basin; a plastic tub and towels to catch any remaining water that flowed from the disconnected drain pump; a cinder block to prop up the machine so we could get under it; a flashlight; plastic bags; packing tape; and a multi-tool.
Reaching the drain pump in our cramped laundry space required some uncomfortable contortion, so we took turns with one of us pointing the flashlight, controlling the video on the laptop, and providing tools while the other did the dirty work.
It was awkward, it was messy, and I imagine folks who are well-versed in home repair would have gotten a chuckle out of watching us fumble through the process. But in the end, our washing machine was fully operational about 90 minutes after we sent the repairman away, and we were $250 better off. Feeling triumphant, our only regret was that we hadn't found the video sooner and taken a crack at fixing it ourselves from the start in order to save the $100 we paid for the repair visit.
The experience empowered us to do more DIY repairs — and also showed us our limitations
Our experience with the washing machine emboldened us to try our hands at DIY repairs more often, and it wasn't long before another opportunity arose when the heat stopped blowing in our car. Turning to the web once again, I found several automotive message board threads that led me to believe the problem was a dead blower motor resistor — an inexpensive and easily replaceable part.
This time, YouTube provided multiple tutorials (specific to our car make, model, and year) that guided me through what to buy at the local auto supply shop and how to install it. $11 and 30 minutes later, the heat was running smoothly.
Similarly, YouTube has helped us repair a faulty latch on our screen door, install a wall panel in our basement for sewer line access, and even reprogram our modem when a power outage restored the factory settings (rather than shell out $80 for a technician to do it). None of these repairs were expensive or overly complex, so despite lacking essential handyman skills and with little intuition for fixing things, we were able to get them done with proper guidance.
Our new willingness to attempt repairs has also helped us recognize our limitations. For example, when water started mysteriously dripping from a light fixture in our kitchen this spring, we knew right away it was a problem we weren't equipped to solve, and we notified our landlord instead.
If a repair still feels over our heads after reading discussions and watching tutorials, then we feel no compunction over enlisting professional help. But we only learned what we truly can't do by first learning what we can do, and both are empowering in their own ways.
DIY repair videos seem to have become a cottage industry on YouTube, and I'm grateful for the armada of knowledgeable vloggers sharing their skills and insights online. The next time something needs fixing at our house, I know the first place I'm looking for advice.