Thursday, May 9, 2013

Too many Projects

One of the problems with living the ecofrugal life is that small problems, which most people would solve with a quick trip to the store, can easily turn into Projects. Here are a few examples that have popped up for us recently:

The Case of the Running Toilet
Our upstairs toilet has taken to running indefinitely when flushed. It doesn't do it all the time, but often enough to be annoying. It's not always the same problem, either; sometimes the chain has lodged itself under the flapper, preventing it from closing all the way, and sometimes the chain has grabbed onto the  flapper itself, preventing it from falling into place. We've tried shortening the chain, but then it ends up being too short, so that the flapper can't close at all.

Now, a true spendthrift would solve this problem by calling a plumber, without even bothering to glean all this information about the flapper and the chain. A normal person would probably try fixing the chain once or twice and, when the problem kept happening, would go down to Home Depot and get a new flapper and chain for $5. But even that solution would involve spending some money, as well as throwing out the old flapper. And the thing is, we know the flapper we have used to work properly. So in theory, it should be possible to get it to work properly again. But getting it to work again will be a Project. It might involve cutting the chain, or replacing it entirely, or threading it through a soda straw as this Wikihow article suggests, or maybe shaving down the lip of the flapper so it doesn't catch. There will probably be some trial and error involved, and naturally, all of this will take time to do. So, like all Projects, it has to be set aside until we have several free hours to deal with it, most likely on a weekend. And in the meantime, we have to keep reaching in and fiddling with the chain every other time the toilet gets flushed.

The Case of the Broken Desk Fan
For the past several summers, I've kept a little clip-on fan on the edge of my desk. I think we originally picked it up for a dollar at a yard sale, and it's proved to be a worthwhile investment. It produces enough of a breeze to keep me tolerably cool even with the indoor temperature as high as 90 degrees, so I don't need to switch on the air conditioning more than once or twice in a summer. However, when I removed it from the desk last fall, the clip broke. We tried gluing it back together, but no dice; the glue wasn't strong enough and it promptly split. Then we tried splinting it, and the clip just broke in a different place. We concluded that the clip was not salvageable, but the fan still might be, if we could build some sort of stand for it. So now this broken fan is now a Project, tucked on a shelf in our newly-cleaned-out workshop, awaiting repairs that will require, once again, a free weekend. Which I'm hoping we'll have before the weather gets too hot, because obviously I can't just go down to the drugstore and spend $10 on a new fan if we have an old one that could still do the job with just a little bit of work, right?

The Case of the Worn-Out Soles
As I've mentioned before on this blog, Brian has an old pair of shoes that were quite expensive when new, but have worn down to the point that there's little tread left on the soles. When I took them to the shoe shop to see if they could be resoled, I was informed that this type of sole costs $60 to replace (and even after shopping around online, I couldn't find anyplace that would do them for less than $50, which would come to over $60 with shipping). Given that we'd seen a similar pair of new shoes on sale at the Famous Footwear for $70, this didn't seem reasonable.

So, for a normal person, the solution would be obvious: throw out the old shoes and either get a new pair or, since you've managed without them this long, just continue to do without them. But it seemed like a shame to me to throw out a pair of shoes that still had a possible year or two of life in the uppers just because the soles were worn down. So I Googled "resole shoes at home" and decided to try picking up a pair of heels and half-soles for 12 bucks on However, when they arrived, it became apparent that they were really designed more for a men's dress shoe with a raised heel, and not for a shoe with a one-piece sole like the Rockports we had. So figuring out how to apply these soles to the shoes became a Project. Could I stick them on with Shoe Goo? Would I have to cut out part of the existing sole to create a flat surface to apply the heels? Would I have to clamp the new soles to the shoes while the adhesive dried? For how long? The more I considered it, the less confident I felt about tackling the job on my the shoes sat out on my desk, waiting for—yes, you guessed it—a free weekend when I could enlist Brian's help to fix them.

This story actually does have an ending, because last night I showed Brian the new soles and heels and asked for his advice. He examined them and concluded that they probably weren't suitable for the shoes he had, and also that it probably wasn't worth putting a lot of time and effort into a pair of shoes that had such an uncertain amount of life left in the uppers. But he did decide that the shoes were still wearable in their present condition—just not in wet weather. So he put the worn-out shoes in the spot next to his dresser where he keeps his everyday shoes, in the hope that he'll remember to wear them in fine weather and get whatever remaining life they have out of them. And the heels and half-soles went into a drawer with his shoe shine supplies, where we'll have them handy should we ever need to repair his 25-year-old dress shoes.

Now if only we could come up with equally satisfactory solutions for the desk fan and the toilet....
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