DIY, Maintenance

Knowing When to DIY & When to Call in the Pros


Know When to Call in a Pro | This American House

In this information age, with limitless information literally at your fingertips via Google and the like, it can feel like you’re capable of doing just about anything yourself. Who needs a pro when you have a search engine? Just because you can diagnose a problem, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you should try to fix it yourself.

Frustrated with pioneer baths, I cast my net out to the world wide web in search of my own solution to the faulty water heater. I entered “water heater does not cycle on” into the search box and within moments I had my solution. From Family Handyman:

The No. 1 cause of pilot lights that won’t stay lit is a worn-out thermocouple. It’s easy to replace and a new one costs $5 to $10.

“Eureka!” I exclaimed in the glow of my laptop screen.

“You found gold?” the Mister asked.

“Not exactly. But I think I can fix the water heater myself.”

“Are you sure about that?”

My eyes were drawn to two things in the Family Handyman post – that a thermocouple is easy to replace and that a new one costs less than $10. Of course I can do it myself, I thought. But then my eyes wandered down the page and found this: “Check for gas leaks by applying soapy water to joints and looking for bubbles while the main burner is firing.”

There are four questions I ask myself when I weigh whether to DIY a project or bring in a professional:

  • Will the job require special tools?
  • Can I easily acquire the parts required for the job?
  • Is there a possibility of causing bigger problems if I don’t do it right?
  • Could I kill us if I don’t do it right?

As it turns out, replacing the thermocouple on our water heater did not meet three of my four requirements. One: while some water heater thermocouples can be purchased at neighborhood hardware stores, ours would need to be special ordered. Two: installing the thermocouple could damage others parts and potentially cause a bigger problem. Three: if the thermocouple is not properly installed, it could create a gas leak and, you know, kill us.

“OK, you’re right,” I said to the Mister. “Maybe I can’t do it myself after all.”

The next morning I called the same plumber we had had out last week and was proud to announce that I had diagnosed the water heater’s problem. When the plumber arrived at the house I asked if I could watch while he replaced the thermocouple.

“I figured out the problem,” I told him, “and was going to try to do it myself.”

I’m sure every professional likes hearing that!

“It’s probably better that you didn’t,” the plumber said as he knelt in front of the water heater. “These can be kind of tricky.”

As I watched the plumber start the work, I noticed that our water heater didn’t look anything like the one in the instructional video I watched. And then as the plumber struggled to get the thermocouple attached and in place I knew I had made the right decision. If this plumber with years and years of experience was experiencing difficulty getting the part in place, I was sure to have destroyed the whole water heater in the process.

And this is why it’s important to know when when to DIY and when to let the pros do it. While I would have loved saving money by replacing the thermocouple myself (not to mention the boost it would have given my manly pride) I’m glad I let the professional handle this job.

Image: This American House

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