This is a guest post from my wife.

I am not handy.

Given a garden tool or a kitchen gadget, I can usually find success. But I have neither the talent or inclination for wiring, plumbing, or carpentry. I come from a long line of un-handy people, too, so there’s no phoning home when the car’s making a funny noise or the garbage disposal is on the fritz. And, unfortunately for me, I also married one of the un-handy (although, to be fair, J.D. tries his best).

In our lifetime together, we have spent more than our share of money and time on projects that would seem simple to those with even rudimentary repair skills. However, we are getting better. Part of it is that we now live in a house with lots of “character”. Things break.

One day, the cold water in our upstairs bathroom sink wouldn’t turn off. I don’t mean that it was dripping; I mean it was full on. This was approximately two months after we moved in. It was at this point that I realized that we either need to learn, or have a very large home emergency fund — or both. I also realized that, in most cases, it’s not the end of the world.

So, here’s what I did this week. You might even call it handy.

Too hot to handle
On Saturday night, I baked pancetta-wrapped halibut for dinner. This recipe calls for a higher oven temperature than most: 550 degrees F.

On Sunday morning when I went to make blueberry scones (while listening to the Car Talk guys, perhaps two of the most handy people on the planet!), I noticed that the top oven of our double oven wouldn’t preheat. Luckily, I could use the bottom oven to prepare breakfast, but I was annoyed. Did I burn out the element? Then I realized we have a gas stove — there’s no element. Did I burn out something else? When I tried to preheat and failed, was I pumping natural gas into the kitchen, potentially creating a fireball scenario? The stove is only four years old, and, of course, we did not buy the service contract or extended warranty.

I pulled out the owner’s manual and flipped to the section for troubleshooting. “Oven not heating” was not on the list. Time for Google. I typed in my range’s make and model and “troubleshooting”. Nothing really helpful came up, but I eventually navigated to a site called Just Answer.

Now, this is the first time I’ve heard of Just Answer, so I am not endorsing them. But I was intrigued by the concept and pleased with the result. Here’s the premise:

  • I type in my question and how much I’m willing to pay for an answer from one of their site’s experts.
  • Once I received the answer, I could decide to pay the amount or not, based on how helpful it was.

I thought this was an interesting business model — I decided to give it a try.

I “bid” $15, the middle choice from a set of options, and wrote my question, giving make/model info, symptoms, the question about my safety concern, and the 550 degree factor. I submitted the question — and waited. Twelve minutes later, “appliance Doc” answered. A real person, who answered me specifically, and told me exactly what I wanted to know, even explaining why gas was not flowing: an ingenious safety feature design that makes perfect sense.

The answer also allowed a chance to ask a follow-up, so I inquired about how easy it would be to replace the faulty part, the gas ignitor, myself. A few more minutes elapsed and a reply came with more details and a link to the part number I needed.

Personal empowerment
Could I have found this information without the online expert, by just continuing with my own online research? Maybe. Eventually. A handier person may have been willing to do that. But what this expert did for me was give me the confidence to go downstairs, dismantle the oven, conduct the test to confirm his (or her) diagnosis, and remove the faulty part. I now knew there were two kinds of ignitors, and I knew which type I needed, and I knew about how much it should cost. And I knew that the replacement should be manageable, even for me.

Armed with this knowledge, I was eager to make the repair myself and could target further Googling now that I had a name for the problem. It sure beat scheduling, and paying for, a repair person to come to the house. Ah, the marvel of the internet — and a burst of personal empowerment.

J.D. picked up a replacement part Tuesday and I put it in Tuesday night. No swearing. No fighting. The oven works, and I spent $67.50 plus about two hours of time to make it happen. I was so excited that I updated my Facebook status, crowing about it!

I also learned a lot more than I knew before about just how a gas oven functions, and that I can easily remove the oven doors when they need a cleaning. The next time this part goes bad (every 5-8 years with normal use), I’ll know exactly what to do.

I’m hardly handy, but I’m learning!