“So, like, the guy tells me that he wants me to re-caulk his tub. It looks pretty good to me, so I ask him why. Get this: He says that every time the shower runs, water pours into the basement – two floors down. So I tell him, ‘That’s not the caulking.’ I have to cut into the drywall in a bunch of places before I find the leak. Turns out, to get at it, the tub has to come out completely. Which is a two-person job.”
I might have messed up some of the details: I wasn’t listening carefully. My excuse? It wasn’t my leak: The plumber fixing a minor problem in *my* house was just making conversation about another job site–and, maybe, making me feel better about my own. I still got enough to get the gist: A not-uncommon point of failure (a leaky pipe) was going to be a bugger to fix because of how we install plumbing and the associated appliances.
Now, the unspoken design consensus is that our houses look better with the pipes hidden behind smoothly drywalled walls, and it’s hard to argue the point. It’s also true that pipes don’t leak every day or even every year. Or even ever, for some folks. But when a pipe does leak, unless it’s, like, under a sink where you can see what’s what and reach out and smack it, it’s a mess. Hard to notice before there’s other damage, sometimes; tricky to pinpoint, often; tough to repair, almost always.
The next week, lying on a bed/plank at the physiotherapist’s office (the hardness assessment varying with how much my hip is hurting), I see a water-stained tile in the ceiling. It’s not the first time: The building is not new, nor was it Class A rental space even when it was new. I’ve happened to be there when they came to fix a leak in the ceiling, and it went pretty snappily:
- Climb the ladder
- Pop the ceiling tile out
- Shine a flashlight around to find the leak
- Take out any other ceiling tiles necessary to get under the right spot
- Balance on the top of the ladder for as long as it takes to fix said leak
- Pop the ceiling tiles back in place when the repair is finished, replacing the stained one
And just like that, they’re done. I’m not saying I could do it–especially that part about balancing on top of the step-ladder–but compared to residential repairs, it looks quick and easy. Why is that?
Unlike your average house, a lot of commercial space is designed to be maintained, even to be majorly reconfigured from one tenant to the next. Track-and-tile ceilings, not drywall. Removable wall panels with snap-on covers that hide the joints, not drywall that has to be cut out, cut to fit, reinstalled, mudded, sanded, and painted. Individually replaceable floor tiles, not sheet linoleum. Standard lighting fixtures with standard bulbs in them, not lighting tailored to every room with one-off bulbs. Off-the-shelf neutral paint for easy touch-ups, not custom tints.
I likely can’t find a house with exposed pipes in case of leaks, but it got me to thinking: What would a maintainable life look like?
It would look capable, armed with the skills and knowledge to handle all the basics by myself, if that came to be necessary for any reason. Planning/cooking meals. Cleaning house. Paying bills. Planning travel. Replacing fluorescent tubes. Resetting a router. Stopping a toilet from running. Meeting new neighbours. Contracting for snow removal and for any other task beyond my capabilities. Maintaining a car. Buying a car. Figuring out a new car. Trouble-shooting Netflix problems. Staying on the technology train.
It would look connected, enriched by as many family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbours as possible. Getting help or solace or both in times of trouble, halving the burden. Sharing interests and pastimes in good times, doubling the pleasure. Taking me out of my own head.
It would look broad, anchored by enough varied interests that new ones can take up the slack if circumstances derail an old one, even temporarily.
It would look open, willing to try new things. And new people.
It would look simple, able to be satisfied with non-exotic everything. Food. Clothing. Decor. Entertainment. Travel.
It would look resilient, able to handle external shocks: financial, physical, emotional. Minimal debt. A good base level of fitness. Some practice in being grateful for what is, rather than being resentful about what is not, in case I ever really need to use such a capacity.
I don’t need a score of 100% even if that were possible (and it isn’t). I can just focus on the areas where I can add a degree of maintainability for the least effort. I can just keep an eye on what will happen when my life inevitably springs a leak of some sort. Will I have to take the tub out completely to get at the source of the problem? Or will I be able to get away with finding someone willing to balance on top of that ladder?