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Hey, Men: Fess Up To Women About Home Repairs

Of all the things that are tough about homeownership, most people rarely mention being female.

But I'd like to write about that today because I have to admit that I'm defeated -- my local appliance store (which I've shopped at before) refused to sell me a space heater.

And it's cold in my apartment. When I look back at my efforts to make it warmer, it groups together in my brain as "the contractor problem" -- really a series of little battles that I think might have gone differently if my husband had fought them.

A little background: we moved this past summer, to a turn-of-the-century building that has numerous big windows that the old owners had covered with woven wooden blinds. Lovely and sunny in the summer -- but a big drafty ice cube once winter came. Also be aware that I have owned not only apartments but a multi-family house before, so I have some hard-won knowledge about how radiators work. (In Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, my first book of advice to homeowners, I wrote: "Marry a Plumber.")

So the first thing I did was feel the radiator in the kitchen. Cold. Baseboard heat in the bedroom, a kind of technology I'd never been around before, also cold to the touch. And so I asked my neighbors, "Umm, how do you turn on the heat?"

"There's a lever," they all said. I searched, couldn't find it, and finally asked the super, who frankly thought I was a dimwit because I couldn't find it.

When he came up to the apartment, his attitude changed. "Why, your lever isn't here!" he said. "I will make you a new one."

A week later, the lever was installed, and we had heat -- some heat. But it still felt like drafts were buffeting the apartment. This weekend, when it got down to 20 degrees outside, it was impossible to be near a window (which means it was impossible to be lying on bed or sitting on the sofa) without shivering. My "indoor" outfit was flannel-lined jeans, a fleece, a cup of cocoa and a wrap. Legally, NYC requires 55 degrees of heat, and the room temperature was probably actually in the low sixties, but I sure wasn't comfortable.

I decided that the problem was the drafts from the windows, and therefore our flimsy window treatments were at fault, and so I set out learning about thermal curtains. I hung one thermal panel in the most offending window and covered the air conditioner.

Better, but still a two-comforter night.

So I went on my local real estate boards to say "what the hey" and a nice man (where do you guys get all this knowledge, do they teach it to you in school?) explained to me that my double-hung sash windows probably weren't really locked and that even if the windows were closed, a locked window would be warmer than an unlocked window.

It turns out, the windows weren't even closed properly. The tip & tilt clean mechanism hadn't always been popped into place. It's the matter of a millimeter, nothing that you could easily "see" at a glance, but it was the source of some of those icy little drafts.

I feel that this is something that the super could have explained to me if he bothered to check the windows, i.e., if he had believed me when I complained that even after turning on the heat, I was "still cold." But culturally, why should he? Women are thin, that's why we're cold; we're oversensitive, nothing that can be fixed.

I ran into this dismissive attitude several times when I owned the beach house -- handymen who didn't explain leaks or wall repair or roofing to me because they thought I might not understand the principles of physics behind them.

I have one word for these guys: decolletage. If a woman can use tape and pins and underwire and a couple of straps of lace to shove her boobs up under her chin, she can probably understand flashing.

But there are some men who are tolerant, and a friendly one of them on the Internet explained it to me. The problem now was that popping the lower sash of each window into place required what I'll call "a Popeye heave."

My husband was still at work, so I rolled up my sleeves and shoved some window panes around. And then, with my back and biceps hurting, I decided that I might as well buy a space heater.

I spent a good portion of today researching space heaters. I went on the Internet and learned about the different types (for example, radiant vs. ceramic), read sites that aggregate customer comments, and looked up technical specs. I knew exactly what I wanted.

And the store clerk wouldn't sell it to me. Told me flat-out that he knew I'd return it, so why would he bother selling it to me in the first place?

I swear to heaven that I argued with him for ten minutes. I lost. I know from being a real estate agent that I had one last play, which was to go to the ATM, withdraw the $120 price of the heater, and wave the cash under his nose. But I was too tired -- I still have dinner to make and laundry to do, because my work is never done etc. -- so I slunk off. I called my husband, who was indignant, and said that he would buy us a heater at a different store.

So we should be warmer tonight, and hopefully that will end the saga.

But I'd be really curious to hear from other female homeowners, to see if you've ever had a little "extra" trouble getting a repair done.

Because honestly, men are always asking what women want, and what women want is to be warm. And to have their leaky roofs fixed, and their walls without holes in them. It's a high standard, I know, but it's worth striving for.

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