Listening Post: The DIY economy

The North Country economy is tough on the handyman professions because you can’t be a North Country guy (or gal, these days) without developing delusions of handiness, if not the actual skills. A random mix of small-engine mechanics, rough carpentry, light lumberjacking, acceptable drywall technique, emergency glazing and roofing, and, if absolutely necessary–Wiring and Plumbing for Idiots–are all part of the package of growing up in a place where everyone has more house and/or land than they can handle, and less money than one would wish.

Instead of a vibrant service sector paying a living wage, the deal might run like this: X helps his brother-in-law’s cousin put on a deck, in exchange for the right to cut 20 face cords of maple out of the woodlot of some other guy that X’s brother-in-law’s cousin loaned his backhoe to so he could dig a new septic system. The only reason to need money is for tools, materials, and maybe some beer. I’m not sure what the Austrian school of economists or the Keynesians had in mind for spurring robust economic growth, but this is probably not it–as the history of the last century or two in the North Country demonstrates.

Photo: E. Drake, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: E. Drake, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

I’ve reached the age of retirement from most DIY projects. I never had that much talent for it, and I lack a garage, shed or basement suitable for storing a goodly supply of tools, lumber and other durable, useful items. Instead, I have turned to that middle-class double-income alternative–hiring it done. Not nearly as gratifying, but on the other hand, I haven’t fallen off my roof since 1998. And it’s good for the economy–everyone’s except mine.

But it’s hard to hire some things done. Roof-shoveling, for example, does not seem to have a sustainable business model in the area, despite the need. So I no longer DIY it, and I can’t seem to be able to hire it. That leaves the third alternative–fageddaboud-it. Which works fine for me, right up until the north facing low pitch over the living room delivers a couple hundred pounds of ice straight through the storm and inside windows, and on to the easy chair I just vacated.

Cardboard got me through the last month of that winter, but in the spring sunshine I put my mind to finding a permanent solution to the dilemma. Should I raise the roof pitch, or install melting wires, or increase the roof insulation? All sound possibilities–pricey, but sound. In the end I came up with the perfect North Country solution–I pulled out the broken windows, took them down to the pros at the lumber yard and had the glass replaced–with unbreakable Plexiglas. Mischief managed.


4 Comments on “Listening Post: The DIY economy”

  1. I wonder if cardboard can re-stain my house…

  2. Derrick says:

    I will re-stain your house if your brother-in-law’s cousin fixes my backhoe…

  3. Kent Gregson says:

    Dale, you need a home energy audit. It’ll probably be free. get it done and you’ll save more than glass, a lot more. If your roof is up to the snow load the only reason to shovel it is because the escaping heat is causing the snow to become ice dams that back up the melt water so that it flows into your house, ruins your wood, wets down your insulation and sheetrock and generally creates havoc for your house.

  4. Evelyn says:

    I enjoyed the humor and the truth contained in this post so much. As a relatively recent NYC transplant I am often amazed at the initiative and life skills of North Country women who seem to be able to do myriads of things that I have always reserved for building supers and repair people of various kinds, and men in general. I also enjoyed the end allusion to Harry Potter: Mischief managed. 🙂

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