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Guest post: Yes, you can fix it!

This is guest post by Restarter Philip Le Riche

By a stroke of luck it was not the depths of winter when the central heating packed up last week. There being no sign of life from either the controller or the boiler, the first thing I checked was the fuse. Indeed, it had blown. A new one blew instantly too. Time to invoke the service contract!

But before doing so, I paused. Supposing we get a dozy engineer who just looks at the 35-year-old boiler and says we obviously need a new one? Weeks, and a 4-figure sum later, we might be no better off.

So: fits another fuse, sticks head in airing cupboard, switches the system back on. A flash and a loud pop from the actuator on the 2-way valve (the bit that directs the hot water either to the radiators or the tank). Definitely a reprieve for the boiler then.

In fact, a very efficient service engineer, armed with my diagnosis, fitted a new actuator and checked everything was now fine.

But I said to him afterwards “Would you mind leaving me the old one? I just lurve taking things apart!” And so he did. And I did. Just what had burnt out or shorted? I was curious to know. It was easy to get inside, but I was surprised to find none of the expected signs of burning.

Philip in action (right)

On closer inspection, though, there was evidence of corrosion. And in fact, the actuator had been directly beneath the pump, and my wife thought she’d noticed some damp on the floor. Conclusion: we might have to call the engineer back to fix a leaky pump. In the meantime, I put a plastic bag over the new actuator to prevent it going the same way as the old one.

On that occasion I didn’t fix it myself. I have a service contract partly because I hate plumbing.

But it illustrates something I have long believed: the most valuable asset if you want to fix things is not a comprehensive set of screwdrivers, nor a degree in electronic engineering (you can acquire the tools and the knowledge as you go), but an insatiable curiosity about how things work.

You may not be able to fix it, but if you take it apart and perhaps do a bit of research online you can learn a lot, and maybe work out why it broke. With that information, perhaps you can choose a more robust or more repairable model next time, or make your new one last longer.

Although many gadgets are less repairable than they used to be, there has never been so much information available to help you as there is online today. A web search for the make and model of your device with the added keyword “disassembly” or keywords describing the fault will often come up trumps. Many disassembly and fix-it guides and videos are very detailed and comprehensive. Just a couple of tips are in order to get you started.

  • If it has got a mains plug, do not unscrew anything unless the plug is on the bench in front of you. That way there’s no chance whatever that you will have forgotten to unplug it.
  • And don’t rush – when a small part falls out from somewhere inside or a spring goes “ping” and flies across the room, it can be challenging to work out where it came from.
  • Make a note of which screws came from where or take lots of photos as you go. And don’t lose the screws!
  • Finally, if you can’t fix it, make sure you recycle it properly.

Happy fixing!

2 responses

  1. Louis

    It is a Profound statement you made Philip, when you said, “insatiable curiosity about how things work.”

  2. Yes I have tinkered with broken plumbing and other appliances in the past just like this articles talks about and I have fixed things myself and learned a lot about many things in my own home. Great article that brings this to the forefront where most people do not take advantage.

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