When to Replace Instead of Repair

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    Old cabinets and cupboards for repair
    18 Mar, 2020, 3:12 AM

    It’s true – we all love to save a dollar wherever possible, it’s the smart thing to do! There are plenty of ways that you can save money on replacement costs of broken goods by simply repairing instead of replacing, but when does the constant repair cost begin to outweigh the replacement cost? At what point do you need to just stop trying to repair something that’s long past it’s normal lifespan and just spend the money on a replacement? If it’s your own property and your own quality of living, it’s easier for you to gauge what you’re willing to put up with, but in a rental property? You have responsibilities toward your tenants, so what’s the right decision then? In this article, we look at the various options for repairing versus replacement, and analyse what’s most cost effective.

    When to Repair vs When to Replace

    You’d be surprised how many things can be repaired, and made to look like new again. A lot of trades will recommend replacement as a first-up because it’s easier, and profit margins are better. However we feel it’s better to assess a job first. Replacement is a drastic change that may not always be needed. So what sorts of things around your home can you try to repair first?

    A good rule of thumb is to see where the actual damage is. Is it a broken part or fixing? Or is it the main substrate that’s broken, like the plaster wall, or a bit of timber. If it’s a broken part or fixing, you might be in trouble, especially for old objects. Manufacturers go out of business, or discontinue replacement parts for old product lines. It can be incredibly tricky to get replacement parts for objects, and you may need to seek assistance from a specialist repairer. This can actually apply to a lot of things you might not expect, like special cupboard systems. You’d think that cupboards are all pretty similar, but many brands make proprietary systems with specialised hinges, and simply getting a replacement hinge from Bunnings just won’t work. You can find workarounds but they’re often not cheap or reliable, since they’re being ‘retrofitted’ to make something work in a different way to what was intended. In these scenarios you may need to opt for a replacement.

    However, if it is the main fixing substrate that’s damaged, then you can likely repair it. For example, if a hinge has pulled out of a cupboard door and broken off, there’s every chance the hinge might still be okay and the only repair needed is to the door. Or if your towel rail keeps falling off the wall, it may be the wall itself or the fixing methodology to the wall that is the problem, not the towel rail. These are repairable items. This can apply to many things – doors, windows, walls etc.

    This brings us to a scenario where you really may need to opt for a replacement. When ‘flogging the dead horse’. A lot of people will try to get the absolute most out of the fixtures in their rental properties, because they’re ‘just rentals’. But this can affect the quality of living of the tenants, and can also be a fruitless task. We’ve seen countless jobs where we’ve been asked to keep repairing the same broken doors and cupboards because the landlord doesn’t want to spend a bit extra on just replacing it. But is this actually more expensive?

    Consider the cost breakdown of repairs to a busted cupboard door. This is an item that you can get a pretty good lifespan out of, but when you’re looking at a property from the 70s that still has original fixtures and has had rental tenants in it for the last 30 years, that door has lived a really long life.

    To keep trying to fix it up, replace fixings and hinges and keep it patched up would require a callout fee plus materials each time. That’s a couple of hundred dollars every time you need to repair it, and there’s only so much you can do to patch up an old swollen piece of MDF. Whereas to replace this, it might end up being a few hundred dollars or more depending on how many cupboards you’re replacing and suddenly, that repair cost goes away. You can’t put a warranty on end-of-life repairs to something that’s gone well past it’s normal lifespan, so you’re likely to have paid off a full replacement within a handful of repair callouts. It may seem like one big cost all at once, but it’ll be less than the cost of repairs until it completely dies.

    The following is a list of commonly replaced objects that can actually often be fixed instead, and some times where you might need to replace them.

    Rotten windows

    Rotten window replacement is definitely top of our list. We see so many people who want to replace entire windows due to rot, but many of these are unnecessary. Many areas of rot can actually be cut out of the timber, rebuilt, then sealed/painted. This rebuilding could be additional timber and internal structural supports, or builders bog shaped to suit the surrounding frame in small areas. Opting to repair these can save hundreds, if not thousands, in replacement costs. The process itself can take hours, sometimes requiring multiple days if there are a few windows that need to be repaired, but the resulting finish will be a lasting one.

    Sometimes however, you may choose to replace the window if the damage is too severe and too much timber will be lost in the process. In these scenarios, you might need to replace full lengths of timber on the frame, or potentially even the entire frame itself. An inspection can be carried out to determine if this is necessary or not.

    Another time you may want to replace instead of repair is if you’re upgrading. Aluminium windows are highly popular these days, especially in new builds. They don’t rot, they’re easy to clean and maintain, and they look amazing. If you’ve got a lot of rotten windows, it might be a good time to replace them.

    Cupboard Doors and Hinges

    This is a hard one – it really does need to be judged on a case by case basis. We find that our jobs tend to be split between the two, however a lot of people think repairs are possible when they’re just not, and vice versa. A lot of people also don’t know what goes into a repair or replacement, so don’t understand the cost.

    Cupboard doors are normally made from laminated MDF with strip edging along the sides (or open edging on cheap doors). Since MDF is a particle board, it can deteriorate over time, due to swelling from moisture, or damage from hinges/fixtures being ripped out.  You can usually replace standard hinges and rehang cupboard doors if the damage to the door isn’t bad, but once this has been done multiple times, you do need to look at replacing the door and the hinges. If the door itself has moisture damage, that will need to go too.

    Now, to match up the new cupboard door to the rest of them, the laminate has to be correct, the thickness of the board has to be the same, plus the edging. Hopefully the handles are still reusable, but if not, they’ll need to be sourced too. Replacing just a single cupboard door in a matching set can be tricky and compromises are often needed.

    Shower Areas

    Shower areas are something we do see a lot of, and again the damage in these can vary so much. These jobs can range from replacing old grout, to having to rebuild the entire shower. It all depends on the level of damage to the area. A lot of people will see water damage and leaks in their old bathrooms and hope that a bead of silicone around the edge of the shower will fix it. Unfortunately, in 9 times out of 10, you’re just wasting your money. Shower leaks that can be repaired with a bit of silicone are few and far between. And if you’re one of those people who keeps thinking that extra coats of silicone will fix the problem, you may actually be worsening things for yourself.

    The most common repairs you’ll see in a shower area involve replacement of tiles, and grout. Sometimes we also repair the vanity unit, however just like the cupboard doors mentioned previously, if there’s swelling from moisture, they often need replacement. More severe damage that requires full replacement of all the tiling will also mean that waterproofing will be carried out again. This is especially prevalent in leaking showers, as it normally indicates an issue with the waterproofing which is allowing water to travel outside the shower area. This is a costly process that can take a fair amount of time to complete, but you don’t want to wait until it’s too late!


    Now, depending on the type of door you have, you can usually get away with a few good repairs before a replacement becomes necessary. A lot of ‘heavy damage’ we see, especially on external doors that have exposure to a lot of sun, can actually be fixed by taking the top layer of the door surface off and repainting. A lot of jobs also involve things like replacing hinges or handles; the fixings that can be replaced quite easily.

    A replacement is only normally necessary when the door as an entire unit is beyond repair. Holes can be patch. Hinges can be replaced. But if someone has kicked in the door during a robbery and the door is splintered and the frame has damage, you need a replacement.

    Door swelling is also another interesting one. In some cases the door can be planed and sealed, and with the cause of the moisture addressed, should be fine. Some may need to be replaced if the damage is too bad.

    External Leaks

    Have you had a leak in the past where you popped on a blob of silicone to try stop the water. Then again blob. Then another. And eventually you have this thick clump of silicone that’s not doing anyone any favours. This can actually make leaks worse, as water can find its way through gaps in the layers, and there’s no way to just keep adding more silicone to fix it. If your first layer of silicone hasn’t fixed it, you either haven’t done it correctly, or you’re simply not addressing the actual cause of the leak. Adding more layers won’t solve this.

    We understand, repairs are a necessary part of life, especially when owning a rental property. Saving a bit of money where possible is important, which is why we also try to see if there’s a way to repair something first before quoting a full replacement cost. However the most important thing to take away from this is that there’s a limit to how many times you can repair a broken item before it’s gone for good. And it’s worthwhile weighing up the costs of consistently repairing the same item, versus replacing it. No tradesperson will warrant repairs done to try and keep something working that is beyond it’s normal lifespan, and pushing to constantly just try to fix it will definitely cost more money than it’s worth.

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