By Mordechai Schmutter
Today’s topic, now that winter is almost upon us, is how to save on home-heating costs.
It’s not easy to save money, because no one is really helpful about it. You sit down and try to make a budget, which you hate to do because it means cutting things you want in favor of things you need. You figure out how many extra jobs you have to take on and how many expenses you have to cut (“Wait. I can’t get a job and stop getting haircuts”), and somehow you manage to, if not make ends meet, at least bring them into the same basic neighborhood, and as soon as you do that, half your expenses go up for no reason at all.
Just the other week, for example, your health insurance went up. Great. Does this mean you have better coverage? No. Does this mean they hired more people to make sure the statements you get will at least be accurate? No. You have the same coverage, only now it costs more.
So now you have to figure out a budget—again—because your expenses went up and your income did not, even though you just figured out not ten minutes ago that there’s nothing else you can cut. Plus your house is only getting older and springing more leaks, and so are you, and as soon as you make another budget—Hey, the price of gas went up! Is it better gas? No!
It’s like these places have no respect for budgeting.
And this year—surprise!—heating costs are through the roof. And I mean it literally. Heat rises, and I’m pretty sure I have holes in my roof. These aren’t major holes—it’s not like I can lie in my attic and count the stars. They’re basically damp spots that show up on the underside of the roof after major rainstorms. But I know enough about homeownership to realize that this is not a good sign, probably.
We first noticed this last year. I’d read somewhere that the best time to check for leaks is during a storm, which is the kind of thing that sounds obvious once you hear it, even though the way you’d been checking until then was by walking around on your roof and seeing if you fall through. So we went up to the attic and found a small leak—at least it was small compared to the size of the storm. Luckily, I knew how to fix it, using a method that I learned growing up in yeshiva: I put a bucket directly under the leak. In yeshiva we used garbage cans, but the principle is the same. We used my foot-soaking bucket, and, since then, whenever the medical necessity arose to soak my feet (this comes up a lot, if you’re a writer), I had to do it bit by bit in a paper cup.
Another thing we noticed, about a year ago, was that a couple of boards of our soffit were hanging down, exposing our attic to the elements. Yeah, I didn’t know what a soffit was either. Being a homeowner teaches you these things. Something breaks, and you have to learn what it’s called so you can tell people you need to fix it.
Basically, a soffit is that little bit of roof that hangs past the edge of your house. Yes, they do this on purpose. It’s not like the supplier only has houses of one size and roofs of another, and the builder said, “Well, better to buy a roof that’s too big than one that’s too small.” The roof overhangs specifically so you don’t get water running down the side of your house.
Then we had another storm—a hurricane, in fact—and we went up to the attic to see if our roof was okay. The bucket was empty and the spot over it was dry, but there were a few other damp spots that seemed new. Well, new to us. I was actually glad the bucket was empty, because I hadn’t figured out how I was going to carry a footbath with no handles backwards down a ladder.
We would have investigated the damp spots further, but then we heard some kind of chirping or squeaking, and we nearly tripped over ourselves getting back down the ladder and slamming it back into the ceiling. I’m relatively certain we left the light on up there.
None of us has gone up since then, so I’m not sure how we’re ever going to get things we need, such as clothes that our children have grown out of, or the notes that my wife took in high school. I could go back up to investigate, but no good can come from my kids watching me shriek and tumble down the ladder while waving a broom with my eyes closed.
I’ve looked up at the soffit since then, from a safe distance on the ground, and have seen a bird fly in and out, so I’m thinking that we probably have a nest up there. Anyway, my point is that if anyone wants to do shiluach haken, or possibly kill a flying raccoon, they can contact me.
No, that’s not my point. My point is that we should probably call a roofer, right?
We’ve been doing that. No one wants the job. Some roofers refused it because the job was too small. A few of them suggested replacing the entire roof, which is kind of like a plumber coming to fix your sink and then telling you he’d rather replace the bathroom. So we spoke to some handymen, but it turns out that no handyman is willing to walk around on a roof, especially once we tell him there might be holes in it.
Altogether, so far, we’ve only gotten one actual estimate. It was a really high number, and my wife and I did that awkward silence thing, where neither of us wants to say “no” to the guy’s face, and neither of us wants to say “yes” without consulting the other, and we said, “Um . . . we’ll get back to you,” and the guy got scared and confessed: He said that he purposely gave us a high number because he didn’t really want the job. And we said, “That’s okay, we only said we’d get back to you because we didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
But I think that while we had him, we should have asked why he didn’t want the job. Since then, we’ve consulted at least 5–10 contractors, all of whom agreed beforehand to give us estimates on the spot, and all of whom looked at the roof, told us they’d send us an estimate the next day, and then proceeded to disappear off the face of the earth. They see what’s up there and they leave town, change their names, and go into hiding.
We don’t know what to do at this point. I’m thinking I should go up there myself and patch it. We’ve tiled our bathroom, so how hard can this be? Both had to be watertight—the bathroom especially, because leaky bathrooms somehow always find their way to the kitchen ceiling. My current excuse is that I don’t have a ladder that’s long enough, and if we rented one, I don’t think we could fit it in our van.
Alternatively, we can add another floor to our house, and get estimates on that, and then the contractors will end up replacing the roof without realizing that they’re doing so. On the other hand, that would cost us a huge amount of money, which is not great, because we’d have to make another budget, which, if I remember correctly, was the original topic of this article. Actually, our original topic was how to save money on home-heating costs, although I have no idea how to do that, because I can’t get a single quote on which to base anything. I can give you other tips that have nothing to do with roofs, but unfortunately, we’re out of space here. So hang tight, and I’ll come back next week and give you some tips.
P.S.: I won’t. Next week I’m going to pretend this article never even happened, and I suggest you do the same.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.