Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Avoiding Ongoing Maintenance Problems

"Old Sparky"

The telephone rang.
As you might expect on a device invented by an American, it was one.

“Hi there”
“Hello, can I help you?”
“James Wallbanger Junior here,” came a resonant but twangy voice “do you have an electrician?”

He sounded like a big man and the thought crossed my mind that if he was Wallbanger Junior how big might Wallbanger Senior be.

“Yes we do, what seems to be the trouble?”
“It’s Old Sparky, every time we plug him in the whole town goes out.”
“Old Sparky? Electrical equipment I assume.”
“Sure is. He’s what you might call the seat of learnin’ ‘round these parts.”
“Ah, educational equipment, I am a great believer in the value of education, it can be life changing you know.”
“Oh Old Sparky’s life changing alright”
“But he’s not working?”
“He was fine the last time we used him.”
“And when was that then?
“August 1966”
“1966? not exactly yesterday then.”
“Can’t understand it. Hadn’t missed a beat since we bought him.”
“And when did you buy him?”
“1915? What exactly is this piece of equipment.”
“He’s a hot seat, you know, a bum burner, a shocking sofa, a gruesome griddle.”
“A gruesome griddle? Sorry I don’t follow.”
“He’s an electric chair.”
“An electric chair? What, you mean for putting people down?”
“Yeah you’ve got the picture. We’ve had to blow the dust off him. Been havin’ a bit of a problem getting the chemicals you know.”
“So I understand, you had a bit of a problem with the last one.”
“Yeah you could say that.”
“How is it that a country that put man on the moon and is full of people that are so good at killing each other can’t even get an execution right?”
“Killing somebody ain’t that easy.”
“Not that easy? Even rock stars and actresses can manage to kill themselves.”
“Hey that’s a bit harsh ain’t it.”
“Well you do seem to have one or two too many people running around with weapons specifically designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest possible time.”
“Yeah but we’re not usin’ guns, we’re usin’ volts an’ chemicals, it’s more humane.”
“That last attempt wasn’t exactly humane was it? Even the old ‘bolt in the head’ given to cattle would have been more humane than that.”
“Bolt in the head? What do you think we are, barbaric or something? We’re far more sophisticated than that. We use lethal injection these days, the latest technology. Only trouble is, as ah said, we’ve been havin’ a bit of trouble gettin’ the chemicals.
“You can’t get the chemicals?”
“Those darned Euro’s won’t send us the stuff.
“Why won’t they send you the stuff.”
“Say they don’t want any part of it.”
“Perhaps they come from countries where planning to kill someone is considered premeditated murder.”
“Hey we’re not killin’ anyone here, we’re executin’ ‘em.”
“So they’re not dead then?”
“Why course they’re dead, there’d be no point otherwise now would ther’?”
“Sounds rather like killing to me and if they provide the chemicals they might be considered as aiding and abetting a crime.”
“I don’t know anythin’ ‘bout that, go talk to the Governor, he tells us to do it.”
“So you can't buy chemicals, what did you do?”
“Well we had to get Old Seth to mix up a brew in the kitchen.
“But Old Seth got it wrong?”
“Yep, sure did, used the teaspoon measure when it should a’ been a tablespoon. If those darn Euros had come good we wouldn’t be a havin’ all this ‘ere bother. Hey why am ah tellin’ ya all this. Can you fix this darned machine or what?”
“Well it’s a bit old, it is probably out of warranty by now, spare parts might be hard to get and you can bet your life the service centre isn’t open at weekends.”
“Might just be a fuse.”
“More likely a short circuit. Just one final question, does it comply with health and safety regulations? Electrical equipment can be very dangerous you know, someone might get killed.”

Have you noticed how much old stuff we collect? Houses, cars, televisions, washing machines, coffee machines, naval fluff removers, electric chairs, (you never know when you might need one) the list goes on and on. These days manufactures don’t want you to repair things, they want you to buy new ones. We end up with a junk room full of dead stuff we can’t bear to throw out but which can’t be repaired.

Maintenance of Buildings

Maintenance of consumer items is one thing but buildings are a far more serious matter and can, of course, be very costly. If you are building or buying property you will, of course, have to pay for any repairs or maintenance yourself.

Some people at this stage might be thinking that they are renting property and so maintenance isn’t their problem but don't be so sure, you may find later that the smiling face that rented you his “palace” for the next 20 years never had any intention of paying for any maintenance no matter what the lease agreement might say.

Maintenance issues to look out for when buying or renting

When looking for a property here are some things that have a distinct odour of maintenance about them and you might like to avoid:

1. Damaged roof tiles
2. Worn alang alang roofs
3. Plastic roofing (it won’t last long).
4. Asbestos (gives you a nasty cough).
5. Cracks in walls larger than 3mm wide.
6. Water damaged ceilings.
7. Broken wall and floor tiles (you will have trouble matching them).
8. Termite damage.
9. Rotten woodwork.
10. Tired or peeling paintwork.
11. Low cost plumbing and electrical fittings.
12. Complex water systems.
13. Leaking and broken taps.
14. Wooden external areas exposed to the weather such as decks, staircases and ballustrades.
15. Swimming pools (unless you are fully aware of the work and cost involved in maintaining them.)

There are many ways of reducing the ongoing costs of maintaining property. Housing authorities are experts at low maintenance house design however their buildings tend to have about as much appeal as a public toilet in a football ground. Ballustrades and stair rails tend to be galvanised steel, window frames are aluminium, door frames are steel, roof gutters and downpipes grey PVC. Often the only vestige of taste left is the front door which these days is often plywood painted in the colour of your choice.

Low maintenance and material choice

Not much to get excited about is there? Sadly many of the materials that give a building aesthetic appeal mean maintenance work along the way.

For example we all love thatched "alang alang" roofs but to meet demand methods of cultivation have been ‘speeded up’ which means a roof that used to last 12 to 15 years can now only be expected to last 5 to 8 years.

Beautiful wood for floors, doors, staircases, window frames and wall lining is becoming more and more scarce and expensive. Cheaper wood is being substituted and this can only mean more maintenance headaches down the track.

If you do want to live with the beauty of natural wood, bamboo or alang alang around you it makes sense to accept that every once in a while you will have to pay to keep it up to scratch.

There are, however, some materials that are low maintenance but do have aesthetic appeal such as stone, terracotta, marble and ceramic. In western countries such materials are prohibitively expensive these days but here in Bali we have the advantage of very reasonable and there are some very capable craftsmen around to get the best out of them.

When using such materials it is wise to give it a bit of thought first. That beautiful natural white palimanan stone floor looks stunning until some drunk at a dinner party spills a glass of red happy juice over it and you have a stain that will be harder to remove than Robert Mugabe’s dog. You might also, in one of those times of rash thoughtlessness, decide to paint that maintenance free red brick or natural stone wall only to realise later that, once painted, it is no longer maintenance free and you will have to keep on painting it for ever.

So when taking on a building, owning or renting, allow a budget for annual maintenance and make sensible decisions in the first place. The size of the budget should be commensurate with the size and style of the building. When deciding on materials and fittings don’t go for the cheapest option, go for the best option. For example external woodwork will last longer, even if you don’t take care of it, if you use a high quality hardwood. Regular care can make it last a lifetime.

Electric chairs tend to be made out of rather nice grainy wood and they have lasted quite a while although in an electric chair a lifetime might not be very long at all.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2014
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

8 February 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180