Did you know that most “broken” appliances only need a minor repair to become functioning again, and often this fix takes less than 20 minutes? I have saved countless appliances just by replacing a fuse, cleaning out coils (from a refrigerator), replacing hinges, soldering a joint where 2 wires came loose, or swapping motherboards (for a mobile phone and a dryer). These repairs may sound complicated, but most are really pretty simple. All these repairs took just a bit of my time, a bit of money (the cost of the part), but saved me from having to buy a new appliance altogether.

DIY Culture Shock

When I first arrived in Singapore nearly 6 years ago, the first thing I did was look for the nearest “Home Depot” equivalent. In the States, Home Depot is where you get all your home  maintenance and improvement essentials. The DIY culture in the States is strong, which is why retail “giants” like Home Depot are still growing despite the sluggish economy.

Yet when I arrived, there was really no such place quite like Home Depot. Home-Fix and even BUILDERSmart only had what I considered the basics. Home Depot carries such a wide range of items, that one can build an entire functioning home (including the foundation, structure, plumbing, electrical, and appliances) from scratch only using items from the shop.

“So what do I do if my dryer breaks down?” I asked a salesperson at Home-Fix. He said, “You hire a handyman or get the dryer company to send a technician.”

Well as you know, things break. And much of the stuff we buy today is design for “planned obsolescence“. This means that things are made to have a very limited lifespan in hopes that we will purchase a replacement. Often, it is only one part of the item that breaks. And once you repair that item, the thing works again, sometimes even better than new.


What to do When Your Item Breaks? 

Although there is no Home Depot here, there are places that you can bring your item and people who can help you fix them – The Repair Kopitiams. Did I mention it’s free? They operate currently in 2 locations on a monthly basis – 444 Jurong West Ave 1 and 897A Tampines Street 81. Their next session is 27 August. 

And not only do you get your item fixed for free, you also get something even more valuable – a guided DIY lesson on how to fix things. When you develop these skills, you feel a true sense of ownership, gain respect for those who built your gadget, and get a better understanding of mechanics, circuitry, and product design. With these lessons, you can pay it forward and help others. You might even consider pursuing a career or side gig from the experience. 

The Repair Kopitiam is Singapore’s version of the worldwide Repair Cafés, which began out of Amsterdam in 2009. Like Repair Café, Repair Kopitiam aims to change our attitudes toward consumption and the throwaway culture by having people come together to repair broken items.

Repair Kopitiam started as part of the SG Future initiative under the helm of Farah Sanwari. It is now supported and organised by the Sustainable Living Lab and sponsored by Horme and Bosch.


What Types of Broken Items can I Bring?

Most people bring electrical appliances, such as fans, toasters, and microwaves. Repair Kopitiam also has specialists in fabric repair and in home improvement. If you have a handbag with a broken strap or a leaky faucet, the repair coaches can help you explore options and methods for rectification.


What Happens if My Item Can’t Be Fixed?

When my refrigerator door broke, I was only able to fix it by ordering a special hinge directly from a genuine Bosch supplier. Sometimes, repairs will require genuine or very specific parts in order to perform the repair. Other times the repair may require a special tool. 

If the specialists and coaches at Repair Kopitiam are unable to repair your item, they might still be able to help you with responsible dismantling and recycling. You might even be able to salvage parts that you could sell or use for other projects.


Some Thoughts

Since I started doing DIY repairs, I’ve learned way more from disassembling, building, and tinkering than I did from many of my university engineering classes. I’m no longer intimidated by power tools or broken home appliances. I have also become more aware of my purchasing decisions and environmental impact. These lessons are indeed the real value of Repair Kopitiam. And if you are keen to learn or have your children learn, join the good folks at the Repair Kopitiam and maybe buy them a coffee or two.  

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