Thursday, June 26, 2008

The importance of maintenance: a near miss

Ms. Loonie and I live in a high-rise condominium complex. The units in our building are all equipped with en-suite laundry machines, and our washer and dryer are approximately four years old. These appliances are the first we've ever actually owned, as we rented an apartment before purchasing our current home. As a result, this is the first time we've ever had to worry about household maintenance.

So far (touch wood), we've had a pretty smooth run with our condo. Our corporation's reserve fund covers the bulk of the maintenance to the common elements, and our appliances are really our chief concern when it comes to keeping things in good working order.

Over the past month or so, we watched our dryer become progressively less effective at drying a load of laundry. It continued to generate plenty of heat, and spin the clothes quite well, but it was taking much longer than usual to get the clothing completely dry. We had checked the lint screen and a few other things, and we were starting to think that something might be wrong with the unit's moisture sensor.

So, we got on the phone to Sears, and scheduled an appointment with a technician. This being our first service call, we were a bit surprised to hear that the cost would be $80 just for the diagnosis, and then the cost of labour and parts would be added on top of that when the actual repairs were carried out.

I was annoyed to have an expense like this to deal with, but gradually managed to talk myself into tapping our Emergency Fund (sitting at the time just below $1,400) to cover the repairs. I knew this was the sort of thing that money was meant to cover, but it was painful to think of so much of it going out the door.

I decided to get the laundry area tidied up to facilitate access to the dryer, and while I was doing this, I noticed our in-wall dryer trap panel. I already knew it was there, but since it spends most of its time obscured by our cache of household cleaning products, I had mostly forgotten about it. This trap essentially filters the air coming out of the dryer hose before venting it into the building's common exhaust system.

We clean out the dryer's built-in lint screen after every load, so I wasn't expecting to find a lot of lint build-up in this secondary trap. However, when I pulled it out to inspect it, I found a thick layer of very damp lint coating the exhaust screen. I quickly cleaned out the trap, and replaced it in the wall, and lo and behold, the next load of wet laundry to go through the dryer was finished (and bone dry) in record time.

After a few more dryer loads to confirm the improvement in performance, we called up Sears to cancel our appointment.

I don't know how much the technician would have charged us to scoop some wet lint out of the wall, but given that we were looking at a minimum $80 charge before any work was done, and the possibility of some unnecessary repairs due to a misdiagnosis, this five minutes of basic household cleaning saved us a nice chunk of money, and left our emergency savings intact for the time being.

From now on, I'll be checking this secondary lint trap at least once a month.

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