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Home Repair: When to Call a Professional
by Ruby Bayan

Many homeowners are self-proclaimed do-it-yourselfers. Armed with state-of-the-art tools and equipment, the home repair handyman and handywoman can successfully replace leaking faucets, fix squeaky floors, and overhaul stalled washers, saving hundreds of dollars on call-out charges for professional services.

Unfortunately, not all handypersons can be spared the expense when things break down at home. For several reasons other than safety, many home repairs should be performed only by experts and experienced professionals.

Call the plumber!

I'm a self-proclaimed handywoman; I can fix faucets, lighting fixtures, and small appliances. But as a newcomer to America, I think twice before flexing my do-it-yourself muscles -- especially in the plumbing department.

Aside from the fact that most of the plumbing fixtures here are much more sophisticated than the traditional screw faucets and pipes found in many other countries, there are specific plumbing work permit requirements and other rules and regulations imposed by no less than the American government.

In effect, homeowners can take the initiative when it comes to simple repairs, like replacing showerheads, upgrading water closet mechanisms, and unclogging shower traps. But if plumbing activity has to deal with major leaks, overflows and back-flows, along pipes that are connected to drinking water sources, toilet facilities, and sewers, licensed plumbers need to be called in. If there is the slightest risk of contamination, the local plumbing and sanitation code requires homeowners to contract the expertise of an accredited professional.

Furthermore, water heaters, disposals, pumps, and dishwashers may come with easy-to-follow installation and repair manuals, but it is always best to employ the services of experts. Besides, here in the USA, expert work is always covered by a warranty.

What every homeowner needs to know about plumbing, however, is where the house's main water valves are and how they are shut off. Then getting help is as simple as choosing a certified plumber from the phone book. Most plumbing companies offer a full range of services 24 hours a day -- they electronically detect pin-hole leaks, certify back flow prevention, and repair and replace toilets and major plumbing fixtures. Even proficient do-it-yourselfers should let the pros handle these things.

Is there a technician in the house?

Another home fix-it job I will hesitate to dirty my hands on is appliance repair. If a home appliance has been working well for about a year, then it suddenly conks out on me, this is as far as I will go: check if the appliance is plugged in, and if it is turned on.

I will probably nudge it a little if possible, press a few buttons and settings here and there, and finally check the fuse box for a short. But if the appliance still doesn't work, I'll call an expert... or get a replacement.

Why? Because most home appliances are covered by product warranties. If the owner tries to pry the appliance open, the free service warranty becomes void.

With today's acceleration of technological breakthroughs, there's a big chance that the most skilled do-it-yourself handyperson will encounter totally alien devices inside a defective appliance. In the end, despite all efforts, the appliance will still be kaput, and the free repair warranty will have become null and void. Of course, at this point, the owner will think there are only two choices left: pay for repair services or buy a brand new replacement.

There's a third choice. Many American-made home appliances are backed by the manufacturer's assurance of quality and reliability. In this case, the manufacturer provides free repair and maintenance assistance through an 800 number. The appliance manual contains this information. With the assistance of the manufacturer, homeowners can succeed in getting a faulty appliance to work properly again.

Is it just me or is it cold in here?

Another serious repair job I will not trust myself with is fixing my dwelling's heat, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. I will change the filters, yes, but if I hear an unusual sound anywhere between the outdoor condensers and the indoor vents, I call the service guys.

Heating and cooling systems involving pumps, forced-air, and gas- or oil-fired boilers/furnaces can get pretty complicated for do-it-yourself homeowners, unless they're certified engineers. And because the integrity of home temperature is essential to the well-being of the residents, repair and maintenance of the house's atmospheric systems should be handled by specialists.

Where's the circuit breaker?

Because the only way I can detect electricity without a voltage tester is if I get a painful shock, electrical repair is something I take very seriously. I can change light bulbs, install lamps and ceiling fixtures, and replace sockets, but when it comes to rewiring or finding out what's wrong with an electric furnace, I'd rather not take the risk of getting electrocuted. I'd dial for a pro.

The basic electrical maintenance repair tasks can be done by a skilled handy- person. By strictly following safety precautions (like unplugging appliances, flipping the main switch, using insulated tools, and not standing on a wet floor), do-it-yourselfers can perform simple electrical repairs without having to call an electrician. But as always, when in doubt about performing the repair safely, homeowners should seek the help of a professional.

An ounce of prevention...

It's a comfort to know that repair experts for every type of home fixture and appliance can be found in the phonebook. With the proliferation of online exposure, these same experts can now also be found on the Internet.

But because expert service will always cost quite a bit, an ounce of prevention will save the typical homeowner this oftentimes-unexpected expense.

Be sure to follow proper installation procedures before turning on your household appliances, fixtures, and equipment. Use them only for purposes they were originally designed for. Give them regular maintenance check-ups, and leave the not-so-simple repair and maintenance jobs to the experts.

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