While some people are DIY-ers and handy with a pair of pliers and a screw driver, for many of us our home repair and maintenance issues require outside assistance. Enter Frankie (or Chuey or Flaco or Bob,) that quintessential handyman recommended by your Tia Fifa because he once fixed her daughter’s neighbor’s sliding door, and m’ija that thing hasn’t come off its tracks since!
It’s the Latino way. Word-of-mouth and friend-of-a-friend are usually the most trusted sources. Every family seems to have an uncle or cousin or in-law who is really good at around-the-house stuff: hooking up the heater or the AC, unclogging a problem drain, fixing a broken dishwasher. And it certainly seems like a win/win situation; familia charges less than a professional, and may have a more immediate need for the extra income. In this economic landscape, who wouldn’t want to score a deal while helping a homie out?
But think carefully before you jump on the Mr. Fix-It bandwagon. Even minor home repairs have the potential to cause large-scale damage if not handled properly, particularly those that involve gas, electricity or water. Shoddy patch jobs or a simple oversight can have serious consequences. In fact, heating issues (including faulty hookup or maintenance) are a leading cause of house fires, and are responsible for 22 percent of all home fire deaths.
Another top fire culprit is electrical malfunctions, which contributed to nearly 3,000 fire-related deaths and over 15,000 injuries in 2010. Something like an incorrectly installed light switch or ceiling fan could cost someone’s life. And those figures don’t account for the millions of dollars lost to property damage, particularly for those who don’t invest in renters’ or home-owners’ insurance.
Beyond fires, costly home repairs related to plumbing, roofing, and flooring can arise when a pro isn’t consulted. Even seemingly simple problems can have more complex causes than initially suspected.
There’s more. In most states, you are legally required to contract a licensed professional for many home repairs, and to verify that he or she is has liability insurance coverage. Not doing so could result in charges being filed against you should something go awry. And if your home is insured, not using a pro could void your coverage. Beyond that, should the handyperson sustain an injury, you’ve opened yourself up to negligence and personal injury lawsuits. Not to mention the family falling-out and chisme that a deal gone sour would ignite!
Bottom line: nothing wrong with having a friend of a friend hook up your home stereo system or change the batteries in your fire alarm. Anything more involved than that, and you’re better off hiring a professional electrician, plumber, or other licensed repairperson.
Stay safe, mi gente!
By guest contributor, Nancy Sepulveda.