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DIY with a little online help

A little house problem: The dryer suddenly starts leaving clothes damp after a full cycle. What do I know about dryers? Nothing. I’m only aware of the fact that this is a ten year old unit, that we did not want to extend “service plan” for it last year, and that a flat-rate service call costs $150 before any replacement part costs and additional labor.

I look through available trouble-shooting documentation. It tells me to check the exhaust pipe for blockage. I am useful enough with the tools to be able to do that. No luck, though. There is no blockage in the pipe or at the vent.

What’s the information-age guy to do when he needs DIY repairs? Use internet, of course. I go to the manufacturer site in search of additional documentation. Fail. I google the exact model of the dryer. There are dozens of links to sales of newer models, and one or two forum links discussing various issues, but nothing I can use for my specific case. Finally, I start typing more generic queries into Google, hoping to hit upon a general repair advice.

One of the search results is a link to a site called Just Answer. Clicking on the URL, I get a comparatively simple page with a promising subtitle of “Ask an Appliance Question, Get an Answer ASAP!”, a form asking me to type in my question, and a button that says “Get an Answer”.

It would be too easy if that was all it took to figure out my problem, of course. There is no free lunch to be had – in order to get a qualified help, I have to pay. A follow-up question asks me to identify how much an answer to the question is worth to me; the cheapest option is $14. I have to stop for a while to figure out how the site works.

It turns out that the concept is quite simple. I make a good-faith deposit via PayPal to an “escrow” account, get to ask my question and receive assistance from one of the registered experts (nearly a dozen of them are supposedly online, so the answer should really be expected nearly instantaneously). I then have an option to follow-up with additional questions on the same subject. If I am satisfied with the assistance, I can “accept” the answer, which will result in the escrow money being transferred to the expert. If I am not satisfied for any reason, the FAQ says my deposit is fully refundable.

The terms sounds reasonable to me. I obviously do not want to pay up front for something of unproven-to-me quality. On the other hand, $14 do not sound like a tremendous amount of money to part with if I can get a useful advice. Not in a general sense of things, but in comparison with the aforementioned service call fee.

So, I type in the detailed question, mentioning the already performed exhaust pipe check. My question is picked by someone with a nickname of “Dr Appliance” who comes back in literally two minutes with the following advice: It is possible that the blockage exists somewhere within the vent system, so I should try to run a cycle in the dryer with a disconnected exhaust pipe; lint will fly around the laundry room, but if the clothes come out dry, then the problem is isolated, and the service call will be not to the appliance repair but to a chimneys and vents contractor.

As I read the response, a light bulb goes in my head. Dryer vent comes right out on the patio directly from the laundry. I walk outside, and take out the outer grill from the vent. It is completely covered in tightly pressed lint. It takes me sixty seconds to clean it and put it back. In about an hour, as the dryer cycle finishes, the clothes come out of it as dry as they can be.

Something I could have easily figured out myself. But I didn’t. Whoever that Dr Appliance was, he steered me to the correct action. As far as I’m concerned, he earned his fourteen bucks. I “accepted” his response, and officially paid some stranger for an advice. The website allows for “bonuses” to be added on top of the fee, but I didn’t feel like further validating my general ineptitude with extra donations.

I have to say I see future use of this website for myself. Especially since it is not only specializing in appliances. I could get advice on computer programming. Or parenting…


  1. Dr. Phil

    Yup. I check the outside vent and clear it periodically.

    Clogged lint vents are responsible for (a) a lot of early deaths of driers and (b) a lot of house fires. Given the Luck of 2010, then you are good to have found this out before (a) or (b) hit you yet.

    Dr. Phil

  2. Nathan

    I did exactly the same thing with a similar site specializing in questions for veterinarians. (One of the cats seemed scary-sick in the middle of the night.) The Vet who responded (in like two minutes), asked me a few more questions and then let me know that even though, it seemed scary, there was no need to find a 24hr. emergency Vet. Following her advice, I waited until the next morning and our regular Vet prescribed an antibiotic which solved the problem pronto.

    I think that one cost me $20 (same system of paying what you thought it was worth after getting an answer. I’m absolutely in love with the concept of sites like this.

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