A DIY Lesson Learned

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.
— Vernon Law

Earlier this week, while performing some annual maintenance on my hot water heater in my home, I noticed that water kept dripping from the pressure relief valve pipe after I had tested it. I played with the valves some, looked for ideas on the internet (tap them a few times), I tapped them a few times, then I went about my day hoping that when I checked back later, the drip would have stopped.

The next morning, my wife went outside to retrieve something from her car and came back in with a question. “Have you seen all the water in the driveway,” she asked? 

I went outside and saw that the drip coming from the pipe that drains away from the pressure relief valve was now a steady stream of hot water. “Oh, yea, I know all about that,” I replied as I thought to myself, “Oh crap!”

As soon as she left for work, I jumped back on the computer to seek a solution. It didn’t take long to find several articles and videos on how to replace a leaking pressure relief valve. “How hard can this be,” I asked myself?

Initially, things went smoothly. I went to Home Depot and found a valve that matched the specifications of the one on my heater. I breezed through the self-checkout and was home in less than an hour. I watched the online video of the home repair guru one more time, went and grabbed my tools, then I turned off the gas and began draining the hot water heater.

Once it was empty, I applied my crescent wrench just as the guy in the video had done and began applying pressure. At first, it felt like the fitting was turning. Then my enthusiasm quickly turned to concern when I realized the fitting wasn’t turning, it was bending. Then my wrench slipped off, no longer able to get a bite on the now broken brass fixture. Concern had now graduated to full blown panic.

After several anxious moments of deep thought, I decided to call my plumber. “The day after tomorrow, if I finish another job early,” was his answer to when he could make it back out. “Ok, let’s plan on that, I said.”

Contemplating what my wife and daughter were going to say when I told them we may not have hot water for a day or two, I logged back on the internet seeking a solution. I found yet another video that suggested trying a different tool, so I made another trip to Home Depot. Later that day, armed with a new 24 inch pipe wrench and a huge pair of pliers, I eventually got the old valve off and made the repair myself. Whew!

No more dripping hot water, and everyone could take a hot shower that evening. But was all the time and effort worth it?

Maybe. I wound up spending several hours on the task, burned several gallons of gas driving to and from and to and from Home Depot, and I now owned some new tools. I also have a feeling of self-satisfaction (or maybe it’s just relief) from fixing something with my own hands.

However, I probably would have been more productive had I spent the time and effort on my day job, and I certainly would have felt less stress. If I were trying to account for how much I saved versus calling a professional, I'm sure that I would find I actually lost money when factoring in my time at my customary billable rate of $250 an hour.

This experience brings to mind the value that a financial advisor offers. Someone that has the time, interest, correct tools, and resources can develop a financial plan and manage their assets just as effectively as an advisor. But many people come to a similar conclusion as I did about my DIY hot water heater project. As I stared at that broken valve, all I could think about were about two dozen things I would rather be doing at that moment, of which there were a dozen I should have been doing instead.

Next time, I’m calling the plumber.

Do you have anything you would rather be doing than dealing with your finances and investments? Maybe we should chat.