Wanderings – Rodney Dangerfield and home repairs

A functioning part of my home decided to give up the ghost last week. While it was not my fault that the part broke, it was my job to repair it. The problem is I have the luck of Rodney Dangerfield when it comes to fixing things – namely finding the parts. No matter what the product is, I have the ‘incredible’ luck of choosing a product which will be the next to be discontinued, or to have the most difficult-to-find parts. Case in point with this repair.

It took four days, seven stores, two possible online purchases, two wrong purchases, and a trip to Spencerville on day four to get the correct pieces I needed to fix this home item. There was a lot of time and energy expended in seeking this simple $30 part – not to mention some very colourful language spoken.

I took an early Saturday morning trek to the only store in a 200 kilometre radius that had the part. That trip also required a stop to pick up cinnamon buns – when in Spencerville… Repairing things shouldn’t be this difficult. It’s 2023. I can order CDs from across the globe, download movies in a flash, and shop for football jerseys at 3 a.m. with a click of my phone. But if I need a two-inch, dual-flush valve for a toilet instead of the more-commonly used three-inch version, I must search all around Eastern Ontario.

We live in a world of standards that govern many things from food quality and health care, to the ability of our cell phones to work on the same network.

Often standards are developed by governments fearful of monopolies or safety concerns. Companies will develop standards as they look to improve market share and lower costs.

Decades ago, the battle between VHS and Betamax tapes in video rental stores (remember those) was settled by the market. More companies adopted the VHS system, so it won – even though Sony’s Betamax produced a superior video image.

Often companies in the same industry will work together to develop a compatible standard for their products. Standards may stifle creative product design at times, but who needs to reinvent the wheel all the time? When a product works, use the wheel.

What bothers me is the lack of consistency – especially under the hood of products – in standards for consumer products and how that makes repairing items more troublesome. Pundits and experts drone on about how much waste we create throwing out the broken things we own, yet we lack the ability to get parts to repair said items. Landfills are expanded at great costs because things break too easily and people throw items away. Guilty as charged.

Products that are designed to fail within a short service life have not helped. How many people have appliances from 20 or 30 years ago still running? Now look at an appliance bought less than five years ago as it is loaded on the truck for its trip to the landfill.

Planned obsolescence aside, if I want to repair my five year old washer, the parts will likely be more expensive than buying a replacement washer. I think manufacturers have something to do with that. It shouldn’t be this way. Some days I worry about how wasteful it is: other days I worry about how much money goes out the door to replace an item I am sure I just replaced.

As I drove back from Spencerville Home Hardware with a two inch plumbing part that I couldn’t get elsewhere (thanks Mike), I reflected on this latest home repair journey.

We need more companies to standardize parts of products. If for no other reason, than to make sure it doesn’t take four days of adventures to replace a simple $30 part in a toilet.

Just don’t ask me to be the one to set those standards. I’ll probably pick the wrong one. As Rodney Dangerfield oft said, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

Column originally published in the April 5, 2023 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.