The romance of maintenance

January 22nd 2007

The UK suffered a battering recently, as did most of Europe, from a fierce storm. Where I live, high up on the edge of a large valley, the house roof is terribly exposed to westerly winds and most years see me up on the roof replacing or slotting back into place one or two dislodged roof tiles. This year, the storm ripped off several tiles, taking with them part of the wooden baton that they were screwed to. Unusually the tiles were smashed this time, such was the force of the wind.

I considered getting the repairs done on the insurance but such was the extent of the damage nationwide that finding an available tradesman would be like searching for an honest politician. I also recalled the last time I had a job done on the insurance less than three days earlier.

A less severe storm had preceded the big one and this one had broken off three brackets from a section of guttering which was then left just flopping about in the wind. I managed to find a roofer who could secure it before the forecasted big storm hit. This they did and incredibly the guttering survived the big storm. It was only when the rain came that I noticed water was pouring from the middle of the gutter like an incontinent drunkard. When I got a proper sight line on the guttering I could see the roofer had simply screwed the brackets onto the barge board where they had been hanging, which of course was well below the level of the rest of the guttering. This meant that in the middle of the guttering there was a ‘v’ shape where the water collected and overspilled when it filled up, making it useless. When I rang the roofer about it he wasn’t in any way apologetic, he simply said the whole lot needs to come down and be put up ‘properly’ at a three fold cost of the original repair. Needless to say, his invoice will not be paid until I have a satisfactory repair.

But this just illustrates the problem with sub contractors; finding a good one is like panning for gold. And when you find gold, everyone quickly learns about it and wants a stake. Consequently, consciencious contractors are always too busy to do the little jobs. And so I thought, let’s have a look at the roof.

I had already replaced the smashed tiles as a stop gap but the rain that followed the storm exposed a couple of leaks in the roof and I needed to fix them as soon as possible so instead of chasing overworked tradesmen who would only do a half assed job anyway I decided to do it myself. I bought the wooden baton to replace the one that was ripped off.

When I had taken off half a dozen tiles so I could get to the damaged baton I noticed the roof felt didn’t have any overlap in a number of places and was also badly perished in others. This meant fitting additional felt to cover the gaps. The roofer probably wouldn’t have bothered to do this or if they were prepared to, they would have exhaled loudly and insisted that to do a ‘proper’ job the whole lot would have to come off at a cost that would have necessitated me taking out an IMF loan. After a couple of hours, the roof felt was reinforced, the baton was nailed into place and the tiles slotted home. The mortar filling required on the gable end would have to wait until spring to be completed but when I was putting the tools away and hanging up the ladder I felt a peculiar satisfaction in having completed this work. It was a kind of liberation.

Although it made sense to get the repairs done through the insurance (that’s what I pay it for), in truth, I did the job myself because I liked doing it. I found it empowering like being able to make fire without matches. I wasn’t dependent on other people to do essential maintenance. I also knew what a good (or bad) job I had done and thus had a fair idea of its longevity. And although I consider myself to be a cerebral worker, just having ideas is not enough. The ideas have to be connected and made to work. With a physical problem, you can study it, formulate ideas on how to overcome the problem then engineer a solution.

To devise a solution that you can then implement and see it finished and working is one of life’s true pleasures.

Man, those Victorian engineers must have had a blast.

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