Extended Warranties

Read any financial magazine and they’ll generally tell you not to spend your money on extended warranties. Their argument is almost always that you probably won’t encounter a problem large enough to cover the cost. They have their old desktop calculator out, they are hitting the buttons, and what they are saying makes perfect mathematical sense.

But, is it just possible that there is more to consider than just math? What about stress? How is that measured? How much money does that cost?

When I bought my current house, I had to buy a refrigerator, washer, and dryer. I also had a narrow window of time when I needed them delivered, between closing and my move-in date. Two business days (and a weekend, which doesn’t count because none of these places work then). I also needed to make sure the gas, electricity, water, phone, the internet, and television were connected in those same two days.

I went to my local h.h. gregg appliance store, which I had never been to before, but they were the only place that carried the latest version of the LG refrigerator I had decided on. Despite their terrible name, I was able to buy and schedule delivery of all three appliances that I needed during the first of the two possible days before move-in. All that went well.

While I was buying the appliances, they (of course) offered me extended warranties on everything, and they were not cheap. I was in a hurry, I knew I wouldn’t have a ton of free cash after buying the house, and I agreed.

Afterward, I second-guessed that decision, but I was busy with the move and let it go.

There are two things a good extended warranty will provide, and only one of them can be added upon a calculator. Sure, overall, odds are you won’t recover your money. If that wasn’t true, the insurance company wouldn’t make any money, and they wouldn’t sell you a policy. So, from an individual standpoint, when probabilities are factored in, no insurance of any kind ever makes sense. But people buy it anyway, even when it isn’t required (like from your mortgage company, or from the state for collision insurance). Why? Are they just stupid? Do they not know this basic concept? No. They buy it because it makes no difference what the majority experiences if it is your problem to deal with.

My refrigerator had a defect. It was a factory defect, but it was still my problem to deal with.

Instead of asking around to find a service center, having them come to my house and attempt to bluff me (good luck with that) while insisting that all sorts of things should be replaced? Not very high on my list of things to do.

The part that can’t be measured with the calculator is the hassle of it all. That was the part I was dreading recently when my refrigerator started throwing an error code.

Luckily for me, the extended warranty folks were quick and easy to deal with. I didn’t even need to know who to call. They handled all that for me.

The repair place contacted me shortly after that, set up a time, and everything was essentially handled. Yes, I still had to be there when they fixed it, but they called and asked when they could come first, so even that was as painless as possible.

They ordered a part, put it in, and that was the end of it.

Did I come out ahead? Who knows. Heck, who cares? I didn’t have to do anything other than making one phone call and be there during the actual repair.

Yay, me!

So, next time you consider whether to pay for one of these, and you remember the folks with the big, desktop calculators telling you it makes no sense, keep something else in mind. If something bad does happen, it isn’t your problem.

And that is worth something!

The one where a long time went by without an entry

It has been a very long time since my last blog entry. Why?

Well, some health issues that I think would be outside the scope of a blog that is mostly based around my odd predilection for home improvement. The human back is a miraculous thing. It is curved in just the right places, much like the flying buttresses were – to provide support and balance. It allows us to walk upright, sleep prone, and sit in a chair typing on a laptop while watching TV. When it works, we tend to forget all about it, and when it does not, it becomes the focus of our lives.

But, enough about that!

When I bought my home, I didn’t notice something was missing. Some of the sinks, specifically both buddy sinks upstairs, along with one of the dual sinks in the Master bath had no place for a towel. This looks fine, and doesn’t sound like a big deal. But, one day you decide to wash your hands in the sink, and when you are done, you reach for… nothing. That happened one too many times to me, so I bought three Kohler towel rings in brushed nickel along with a set of Egyptian cotton 900 GSM hand towels to go with them.

Let me tell you, these things are fantastic. They are very smooth, elegantly carved, and built to last. Because they are rings, not bars, they don’t need to be shortened (with a hacksaw), and aren’t as persnickety about getting everything aligned and leveled and in just the right spot.

To put them in, I put a towel in the ring, held it up so that the towel ended just above the backsplash, roughly centered between the electrical outlet and the wall switch. I made a small mark on the wall there, and that was it for positioning.

I did use a level when putting on the backplates, even though towel rings are so forgiving you could probably just eyeball it. Interestingly, even though it bothers me a lot when things are not level, I have very little natural ability to tell when something is (or isn’t level). That’s probably why I own so many levels. I have a digital level that is completely waterproof, so it can be used while drowning.  I have a couple of torpedo levels, one of which lights up so you can see the bubbles in the dark. I also have a handful of small, stick on levels that I use on things like my power drill so that I can see if I’m drilling in straight, and not at an angle. All of these levels read slightly differently, which is why I have two levels, a torpedo and a pocket-size, which were made in Germany by the best level company in the world, Stabila. They are the reference standard, so when those say something is level, I know what to trust. I even have a very exclusive Nike golf shirt made of technical fabric with the Stabila logo embroidered on it. The same one Tiger Woods wears to golf tournaments. The company gave it to me for helping them out with an issue they were having with the magnets in the levels. But, that’s a post for another time. It is a good story, and deserves its own space.

Which towel ring did I go with? This one:

towel ring

It really is a great choice. Here’s the Amazon link so you can check it out in more detail:

Towel Ring

Anyway, small project, but those are necessary. They provide a quick feeling of accomplishment, and they generally have a high value compared with the effort involved.

Now, every time I wash my hands in one of those three sinks, when I reach for a towel there will be one there. Plus, they provide a nice, finished look. You may not notice when something is missing, but deep-down, your hind-brain is telling you something just isn’t quite right. So, grab yourself a handful of rings, and soothe your brain.


Amazon Dash Buttons

What is the Amazon Dash? It is a small plastic oblong case with a large pushbutton on it and an LED. It sets up using the Amazon App on your phone, and then connects to your home wifi network and orders things when pressed.

The idea is that when you start running out of something, like sandwich bags for your child’s lunch, or laundry detergent pods, instead of writing it down on a list somewhere, you can just push the appropriate button. Two days later, the item arrives through Amazon Prime.

They win, because you made a purchase. You win, because in a couple of days, when you run out of sandwich bags, you can just open the front door and grab the new box instead of running out to the store at 6:30 in the morning or trying to make your own out of duct tape.

I love the idea, and picked up a bunch of them at five dollars each from Amazon. You must be a Prime member to order them, which makes sense because pressing a button and having the item arrive around two weeks later isn’t going to fly.

I put a bunch of them in my downstairs linen closet, which is where I keep supplies for downstairs, like paper towels, garbage bags, and toilet paper rolls. They come with sticky tape on the back, so I just stuck them on the shelves under the appropriate item. Note that the sticky tape is not especially strong, so I found a couple on the floor the next morning, which did not make me happy. If you can place them on a ledge for support, they might work better.

I put the laundry detergent one upstairs in my laundry room.

The rest of them went in the kitchen. Instead of scattering them around the kitchen, I decided to stack them on the inside of a single cabinet door. This keeps them relatively safe from accidental button presses, makes them easy to find because they are all together, and adds a bit of support to keep them from falling off the door.

Amazon Dash

Amazon Dash

What happens when your three-year old presses the button a couple of hundred times? Does a huge truck show up two days later and bury your house under rolls of toilet tissue? Well, no. If the button is accidentally pressed, you get notified on your phone and have a half-hour to cancel the order. If the button is pressed a second (or third) time before the previous order has arrived, nothing happens. If your toddler presses the button a hundred times, you will get one order, not a hundred. If you cancel that order within a half-hour, you won’t get anything.

This is a well-thought out system, and it works well.

The only problem I seem to have is that I just don’t run out of things very quickly, especially since Amazon tends to sell things in multiples. For example, if I press the button for more mints, three boxes of mints will arrive. It takes me a long time to go through three entire boxes of mints, so by the time it is time to press the button again, it might be months later. It is just me and my eleven-year old daughter, so if there were two adults and four kids living here, I’m sure I would go through the Gatorade a lot faster.

I still like them, though, and it is very fun to push a button when you need things.

The one with the bistro lights

Here I was, all done with the home improvement projects (at least the big ones) for a while, when I came across a home decorating article that mentioned bistro lights. Intrigued, I ran a search. When I saw them, I knew they were for me, and immediately went into research mode.

First, I looked for commercial-quality bistro lights, which are essentially strings of lights much like Christmas tree lights, but the cable is heavy, and the lightbulbs are large. They are designed for outdoor use, which means it is imperative to get good ones, because even things that are incredibly well-designed won’t last long outside. I started out by looking for ones with antique Edison lights, because I have completely fallen in love with that style light. Pretty ironic given that I’ve replaced all my main lights with LED equivalents. The only problem with those is that I can’t find any that are less than 40 Watts, and there are generally about 15 lights on a string. That’s a lot of light, and I want these to be more like ambient candlelight than something to read by. I might still do it, though, as I’ve discovered that I can order them in bulk.

I ended up buying the Brightech Ambience Pro Commercial String Lights. They are heavy gauge wire, covered in very heavy molded rubber, and look like they will stand up well to the elements. It uses 11 Watt sign lights, but is more than heavy enough to be used with any Wattage I decide on. For now, I’m sticking with the 11 Watt bulbs it comes with.

I also got a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord intended for farm use to supply power from the outlet on my screened porch, and an inexpensive outdoor remote controlled switch to turn them on and off with.

At this point, most folks would be almost done. Move a ladder around with a power drill and some wood screws, tack up the string at the attachment points along the ceiling, and everything is all done. Of course, that’s totally the wrong way to do this. For one thing, I’m not drilling fifteen holes in my screened porch. Then, what happens when it has to be replaced or removed? Remember, this thing is outside. No matter how good it is, it won’t last forever. Finally, what if you want to adjust the positioning of the lights? More ladders, drills, and holes.

No, this is what I call the drunk neighbor solution. The thing your neighbor does while teetering on top of a ladder after having too many beers and no idea what he is doing.

Unfortunately, the best way to do this is considerably more difficult. First, you run aircraft cable around the perimeter, using stainless steel, marine-grade hardware. This is the same stuff people use to moor their boats to the dock, so done correctly, it is extremely durable, and will hold up in any weather conditions.

I started by putting in very large, stainless-steel eyelets at all four corners of the porch, screwed directly into the wooden eaves. Then, I constructed cables in the correct lengths using braided, vinyl-coated airline cable, solid copper crimping sleeves (crimped using something called a swaging tool), stainless steel S-hooks, and stainless-steel turnbuckles. I even used stainless-steel collars (called thimbles) inside the end loops to prevent wear on the cable. Overkill, to be sure, but I learned a lot doing it, and I like over-engineered solutions.

Cable attachment hardware

Cable Attachment Hardware

After the airline cable was up, I hung the light string using dual-lock fishing snaps. This allowed me to hang the light string like a shower curtain from the airline cable. It is easy to reposition just by sliding the lights, the entire light string can be replaced. Heck, any of the individual components can be replaced if necessary. In other words, the system is robust and maintainable. If I decide I’m tired of them one day, I can take them down and hang flower pots (or anything else) from the cable lines.

The end result is super-cool, but also incredibly hard to photograph well. I did my best!

More bistro lights

Bistro Lights

Bistro lights

More Bistro Lights



More lights

More Lights

Even more lights

Even More Lights

Spice labels part two!

Did you happen to see my review of Beth’s awesome spice kit? Because it is a fantastic way of organizing your spices in a very space-effective and attractive way.

One problem I had with it is that even though it looked and worked really well, I had no way of knowing which jar held which spice. They are each embossed with the spice name on the magnetic lid, but you can’t see the lid without removing the spice jar from the steel plate. Sure, some of them you could guess at, but for the most part, I was pretty clueless.

Beth was kind enough to notice my little backwoods blog, and sent me spice labels for the back of the jars! The great thing about these is that the labels are round and clear, with the name of each spice on the back of each one. So, they added the functionality to my new spice rack, without making it look bad. At all.

Spice rack with labels

Spice Rack with Labels

How cool is this? They look really professional, and they don’t interfere with the overall look at all. Some I got off-center, some were a little crooked, and the rest are pretty consistent, as I figured out a pattern (little jar numbers at the bottom of each one, label in the center). But, even so, I have to admit that all of them look great in the end. So, you really can’t go wrong. And, it took me all of ten minutes to apply the labels, so no worries.

My advice is (as before) to buy this kit, but make sure you add the labels to your cart before you checkout, because they are totally necessary.

I got my kit through Kickstarter, so I was unaware of the labels, but when you get yours, make sure they are a part of the order, as you will need them.