There’s no reason to suffer though labor pains

On behalf of all of our fellow persons of labor, Fix St Louis wants you to know how humbled we are by your decision to celebrate us, of all people, this Labor Day weekend. I mean, I think we can all agree that VETERANS have earned their own day for celebrating their accomplishments. And I’m not going to say that fixing toilets and stuff is not ALSO important to preserving our unalienable rights. But anyway, golly gee, thanks.

To tell you the truth, based upon Fix St Louis‘ daily chats with homeowners, I have to wonder if Labor Day Weekend might have been invented so there would be at least 3 days out of 365 in a year when homeowners DIDN’T complain about their home repair contractors. The unreturned calls, the no shows, the rip-offs, the botched jobs, and the jobs that seem to go on forever-and-ever. Believe me, we hear it all.

But I’ve always sensed that much of this disgruntlement comes from homeowners’ frustrations from being at the mercy of a home repair contractor industry, whose work, and the way it is organized, they never fully understand. So as our Labor Day gift to you, let Fix St Louis help you overcome your labor pains by sorting it all out.

“Chuck in a Truck”

You know these folks, and probably even hired one at one time or another. These are the guys, sometimes with helpers, that drive up and down your subdivision all day long, who seem to do every type of home repair. Some are actually quite good – you’ll know who they are by how long they say you’ll have to wait for their services.

But hiring a Chuck in a Truck is high-risk, even if your neighbor Sally swears up-and-down about what a nice young man he was, and what a good job he did hanging her mirror. Did she perform a criminal background check on this nice young man (in my experience about 25% are convicted felons)? Can she tell if his work was done correctly to professional standards, or how well he could do your job if it’s anything other than hanging a mirror? Did she check to make sure “Chuck” had insurance so that if her house were damaged she would be made whole? Did she find his customer service rep to be responsive, and find helpful customer ratings on the Internet (sorry, I just threw those in as a joke)? To ask these questions is to answer them.

“The Tradesmen”

OK, now we’re moving-up another notch in the professionalism area. Here, I’m talking about individuals and companies that SPECIALIZE in a single trade, the big ones being plumbing, electrical, carpentry, roofing, siding, and heating & air conditioning.

You gotta be careful in this area because it is VERY EASY to draw wrong conclusions. Let’s say you ASSUME that SPECIALISTS are always better. And you’ve got a visibly obvious problem with a leaky pipe near or within a wall. Is it really best to hire a high-priced plumbing company to fix a leak any repairman could handle, then find someone else to repair your water-damaged drywall, or the cuts the plumbers needed to make in drywall, tiles, and floors to get access to the plumbing problem?

And, let’s say you ASSUME that the MOST CREDENTIALED tradespeople are always the best. There is not enough space here to explain what credentials like “licensed” really mean. And how the system can make it really, really difficult for even the best practitioners to get those credentials, while many lesser practitioners can. And how a license in a broad area like plumbing does not mean that the individual has experience with a broad range of issues within plumbing. And how when you hire a company that claims to be “licensed” it usually doesn’t mean that the person they send to your house is. Now, it’s not like these credentials don’t mean anything at all, but if you lean toward the view that, as in many other industries, these credentials were originally put in place by existing practitioners trying to increase their wages and protect their own interests, and they are kept in place by politicians who like their donations, you will swerve closer to the truth.

“General Sub-Contractors”

You’ve heard the term “General Sub-Contractors” that describes companies that handle larger projects, haven’t you? Uh, no you haven’t, because I just made up that term when I typed the last sentence.

Just be aware that most of the companies that handle large jobs and call themselves General Contractors, or Roofing Companies, or Siding Companies, or Whatever Companies, consist of a skeletal staff of sales and office staff employees, who subcontract out their work to who-knows-who, who are NOT employees, are likely not background-checked like employees, and can’t be controlled like employees. In other words, the folks working at your house are who-knows-who, who are employees of who-knows-what. Gee, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

“Fix St Louis”

The last category of contractors is called “Fix St Lou…”. Hey, wait a minute – THAT’S US! Geez, I swear, I did not see that coming! We’re in a category all by ourselves. One-stop shopping across all trades, for all your home repairs. Technicians who are our OWN employees. So we know all about their non-existent criminal and drug histories, their skill levels, and their easy-to-work-with personalities, at least when we actually pay them on payday (just kidding).

Well, I’m sorry if I took time away from your time to celebrate us, on Labor Day weekend. At least you spent a part of it reflecting on the true meaning of Labor Day, whatever that might be. But, we graciously give you our blessings if you want to think good thoughts about Fix St Louis the other 362 days of the year.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Dare to go out in public keyless

Well, you can now add home repair to the list of industries in which so-called “smart” products have been introduced, insinuating that everything and everyone that came before were “dumb.” Not that anyone ever referred to humble handymen like yours truly as geniuses, but still.

The latest thing is keyless door entry locks. The newly-disparaged “stupid” lock and key, that has served mankind faithfully for millennia, is being replaced by electronic combination locks that communicate with the Internet.

Is this a great leap forward for homeowner-kind? Is it time to ask Fix St Louis to install them? You be the judge:

Kid Management

Back in my day, kids were forced to wear their house keys around their necks so they wouldn’t lose them, a practice that today would lead to parent arrests for felonious violation of self-esteem. But with these new keyless locks, you don’t have to worry about them losing their keys, just about them losing their minds and forgetting the combination. Another advantage is that you can give all your family members separate codes, and set-up text alerts, so you can know that your kids got home safely each day without making those daily phone calls.

Irrational Fear Management

Wondering whether you locked the front door before you drove away ranks second only to wonder whether you left the oven on, as the greatest cause of ruining the first 30 minutes of a workday or vacation. Now you can check and lock the door from your smart phone.

Spreading Keys All-Over-the-Place Management

Seems like it would be a good idea to leave a set of keys with the neighbors in case of emergency, but what if your neighbors are just plain creepy? And what about giving keys to just about every home contractor (other than Fix St Louis), who have not run criminal background checks and are not insured for theft? And giving keys to that housekeeper you’re never quite sure isn’t dipping into your jewelry box or liquor cabinet? And giving keys to those lovable, but absent-minded house guests? Instead of keys, you can give them their own temporary combination, then erase it when they don’t need it anymore.

Beefing-up Your Security System

Supposedly, you can now do cool things that link the act of entering the wrong lock combination too many times to actions by your other security systems. Maybe you can, I dunno, flood them with lights, take pictures of them, send video to the police department, play Barry Manilow music at ear-splitting volumes, hit them with a taser, deliver a non-lethal electrical shock, or whatever else tech geeks can think-up these days. But be careful – the tumbler-fumbler is more likely to be your kid or elderly parent than an intruder.

Maybe this is progress. But, I think it’s debatable that a child being greeted by a lock-deactivating electronic signal from a parent, instead of a steaming bowl of SpaghettiOs, represents human progress. Either way, for lock installation, it’s still a smart choice to call Fix St Louis.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Fact-checking the handyman debate.
Who’s telling the truth?

Another round of Presidential candidate debates, and another round of wondering who, if anybody, is telling the truth. But, is it really all that different from when you’re debating which handyman to hire, and they’re all saying things that don’t quite add up?

So as a public service, Fix St Louis offers this handy guide to handyman lies. We were inspired by the political fact checkers at the Washington Post, who use a rating system that assigns a specific number of “Pinocchios.”

3 pinnochios
“For us, no job is too small”

I’m going to let you in on a secret. EXCEPT for Fix St Louis, no handyman wants your stinking little small jobs. They’d much rather be tied-up for a couple of months remodeling a kitchen so they can make money without the hassle of running around to find new jobs, or deal with customer service issues like call backs for repairs gone wrong. As a result, you might find some handymen using unsavory techniques to shake-off small jobs. Like try to up-sell you from a smaller job to a much bigger job (e.g. “yeah, this window is broken, but all your other windows are not much better and ought to be replaced, too”). Or double their price in the hope you’ll either reject it or make it worth their while.

5 pinnochios
“Can’t come next week, I’m going to my great aunt’s out-of-town funeral”

Don’t want to sound cold, but has ANYONE EVER been so close to a deceased great aunt that they were willing to sacrifice several days of wages to attend her funeral? What this means is that your handyman wants to spend time working for a customer he thinks is more important than you – one he thinks is worth YOUR inconvenience. Worse still, it often means you’ll never see that handyman again.

3 1/2 pinnochios
“Boy, that LAST handyman you hired REALLY screwed-up”

Homeowners fall for this one all the time. One of the least endearing aspects of the normative handyman is a willingness to falsely trash a previous contractor’s work for their own advantage. Yes it’s true that handymen screw things up all the time – it actually generates a lot of work for Fix St Louis. But, you’ll know it when you see it, without another handyman needing to point it out to you. Otherwise, if you hear this from a handyman, run away and don’t look back.

4 pinnochios
“Yeah, sure, we have insurance, even workers comp”

No, most handymen do NOT carry insurance, and even fewer are willing to pay the high cost of workers comp. This makes YOU vulnerable to paying the costs if the handyman damages your house, or gets injured on your property, or steals from you. And you will likely never be made whole. Look, I’D be the one lying to you if I told you I enjoy paying the high costs of general liability, employee bonding, and workers comp insurance. But these are almost entirely for YOUR benefit, and we view them as a necessary cost to US for the privilege of entering your home.

5 pinnochios
“I’ll need 100% of the cost upfront before I begin work”

This is an unreasonable request, and a red flag indicating you have hired the wrong handyman. By paying the entire cost upfront, you have removed all the incentives for the handyman to show-up, do quality work, finish the work on a timely basis, or finish the job at all. For residential work, I can think of only one exception – if an agreed-to repair between a house buyer and seller cannot be completed before the closing date, the best practice is to complete the financial transaction between the handyman and seller before the closing, then transfer the responsibility of the handyman to the buyer.

So, as Oprah’s spiritual advisor and presidential candidate Marianne Williamson might say, “what can we do about this dark psychic force of collectivized lying that leads to very dark work days?” To tell you the truth, there is no debate. It’s time to vote with your jobs, and nominate Fix St Louis as your preferred handyman.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Don’t build that ARK yet! We can keep the water out.

It’s time for someone to name names. Who in the St Louis area invoked God’s wrath, leading to more than 40 days and 40 nights of rain? Could He be THAT MUCH of a Boston Bruins fan? Did the failure of the City-County merger spoil some vast eternal plan? And why instead of a plague of locusts are we seeing these little hoppy green suckers all over the place? They MUST be falling from the sky because not even rabbits can breed that fast!

As handymen, we at Fix St Louis accept it is not for us to answer questions that stump the most learned members of the clergy. But it is well within our calling to deal with the very worldly issue of how to keep these rains of Biblical proportions from entering and damaging your house.

Sump Pumps

Your home may or may not have one, but a sump pump is an electrically-operated water pump mounted in a lid-covered hole in your basement floor. It collects groundwater that gets underneath the perimeter of your house, and pumps it up and out, either back into your yard or into a sewer pipe.

If you’ve got one, make sure it works. If you’re afraid it may stop working in a power outage, Fix St Louis can install a unit with an alarm, a backup battery, or both. If your house has NOT been prepared for a sump pump — that is, it does not have a hidden below-floor channel around the basement floor perimeter and a hole someplace in the concrete floor for the pump itself — it can still be retrofitted to accommodate a sump pump (though not inexpensively).

Foundation Leaks

If you see water coming into your basement from cracks in your concrete foundation or notice that floors near walls are wet, you should do something about it. Fix St Louis can refer you to the real experts in water entering your house – qualified foundation specialists. When their work is done, Fix St Louis can repair the damage created by BOTH them and the water.

Gutters & Downspouts

Gutters and downspouts are designed to direct all the water that hits your roof into drain pipes or onto ground sloped away from your house. Call Fix St Louis if you see water overflowing your gutters, leaking from beneath a gutter, spewing from the bottoms of downspouts that have become disconnected from drain pipes at their bases, or pooling near your house.

Mind the Gaps

If water is entering your house from gaps around windows and doors, call Fix St Louis to replace the caulk, inside and out, and repair the damage to the inside of your home. We can also fill the gaps between concrete patio floors and the house.

Look, I’m just a humble servant to homeowners, not a prophet. But, I’m still going to predict these rains are not a signal we have reached the end times. So, let’s all just wait it out. But thanks to Fix St Louis, you don’t have to wait it out wet.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Stairs and Pipes Forever! Presenting our Handyman Bill of Rights

When in the course of handyman events, the truth becomes self-evident that, while all MEN are created equal, all HANDY-men are not. 

It should also become self-evident that, while it’s unlikely any handyman will ever appear on Mt Rushmore without a hammer and chisel in hand, the country would LITERALLY fall apart without them.

As a highly-decorated handyman service, who has earned the coveted A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and Best of Home Advisor award, Fix St Louis acknowledges the awesome responsibility upon our shoulders. 

We pledge to risk our lives (even on tall ladders), our fortunes, and our sacred honor to make your home great again. And, we demonstrate this commitment by providing every Homeowning-American with these certain unalienable and enumerated rights:

  1. Fix St Louis shall not abridge your right to FREE estimates, and your ability to schedule SPECIFIC appointment times shall not be infringed.
  2. A well-regulated workforce being necessary for proper repairs, our technicians shall be armed with at least 10 years of experience.
  3. Our work shall be GUARANTEED for one full year, and we will provide a full-time CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE who may be petitioned for a redress of grievances.
  4. Homeowners have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, so Fix St Louis technicians shall undergo drug tests and criminal background checks, and their work shall be bonded and insured.
  5. Checks and Balances: Customers may write CHECKS to pay their BALANCES. But, that would be soooo 20th century. Thus, they may also use any major credit card, and pay either online or by phone.

As we say here at Fix St Louis, “E Pluribus Unum” which, if I’m not mistaken, is Latin for “One Stop Shopping for Professional Home Repairs.” So, next time you’re thinking of calling just some “Chuck-in-a-Truck” or “Pete-in-a-Pickup” please consider calling us instead, to seek a more perfect union.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

DEXIT: On deck staining, are you a Remainer or a Leaver?

It is not widely appreciated, but throughout history the humble handyman has provided wisdom and inspiration to some of our greatest moral leaders. Examples range from the Bible’s “a wise man builds his house upon a rock”, to Abraham Lincoln’s “a house divided against itself cannot stand”, to Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home.”

But every once in a long while, there are things us handymen can learn from politicians. That’s the case today on the issue of BREXIT, on whether Britain should leave the European Union. “Remainers” want to hold onto this post-WWII arrangement that seemed mostly designed to keep Germany from invading everyone else, and everyone else from letting them. On the other hand, British “Leavers” want out of the European Union because they’re not thrilled with the idea of countries who recently invaded them writing their laws and telling them what to do.

The equivalent issue in the handyman world of Fix St Louis is “DEXIT” — homeowners breaking away from the ongoing need to stain their deck, freed-up from being a serf with their DECK as their master. Most decks are tyrants, demanding they be stained every couple of years under the threat of becoming uglier, more decrepit and, when replacement is required, expensive.

The “Remainers” in the DEXIT question are those with a cedar deck and a traditionalist disposition, who insist on maintaining a deck composed of cedar lumber with a natural wood look. While it’s true that cedar DOES resist disintegration better than most other woods, if not sealed every couple of years the ends of boards start splitting, knot holes enlarge, and the wood turns an ugly gray color. Why does it have to be sealed so often? Because the translucent stains that maintain the look of the wood don’t protect against water & temperature changes as well as solid stains/sealants.

The “Leavers” in DEXIT have, if you pardon the expression, “splintered” into 2 groups. There is a “Pressure Group” that likes to replace rotted cedar lumber with much longer-lasting and much less expensive pressure-treated lumber, then make the new boards blend in by staining the entire deck with a solid stain or an even better-protecting “deck & dock”-type coating. Then there is a “Composite Group” that prefers to replace all of the floor boards with good-looking, WOOD-looking boards made of plastic-like materials.

So, which deck party is right, the Remainers, the Leaver Pressures, or the Leaver Composites? Well, in the decisive opinion of us here at Fix St Louis, it all depends.

The Remainer Party may be right for you if you are a top 1-percenter who doesn’t mind the cost of staining your deck every couple of years, and haven’t noticed the uncanny resemblance between the deck attached to your beautiful house, and the raft Huckleberry Finn floated down the Mississippi River. Of course, we recognize that there are “honest Remainers” out there who may hold a different point of view, and have decks that everyone can agree are stunning.

The Leaver Pressure Party may be right for you if you don’t like the effort or expense of staining your deck every couple of years, and think if solid-color exterior lumber is good enough for the rest of your house, it’s good enough for your deck. Solid stain should last 2-3x longer than the translucent stain discussed above, about 4-6 years in total, but you can boost that up to 10+ years by using a “deck & dock” coating instead.

The Leaver Composite Party is for those attracted to the appearance of these deck boards, which often look better than real wood right from the start. And also for those who never, ever, ever want to stain their deck again. And also for those who would take pride in the fact that archeologists 10,000 years from now will find only their deck and the Cahokia Mounds. And also for those willing to pay the extra cost.

In any event, Fix St Louis brings the good news that with DEXIT, unlike BREXIT, everyone can plot their own course, and be a master of their own fate. Remainers may remain, and leavers may leave. No one will be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail. Oh that reminds me, we didn’t talk about deck railings. Let’s leave that for another day.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis