It seems my appliances and my two cats have grown old along with me. When I moved into my north-side cottage in 1992, the previous owner bequeathed me a new roof, fridge, stove, water heater, and middle-aged furnace.

While friends complained about expensive home repairs, I smugly carried on with no repairs for all these years. I’m of the generation that expects everything to last forever if proper maintenance is done. Then last summer came leaks in the roof. Living on Social Security and a bit of freelance writing, replacing a roof was beyond what I could afford. Finally, I negotiated with Sheriff-Goslin roofers for installment payments.

During the roof scare, I’d heard that subsidies were available to low-income home owners from city, county, and state agencies–and, inveterate researcher that I am, I contacted them all. Nothing was available for roofs. But I did run across a website for Habitat for Humanity with a box that announced the availability of free refrigerators for low-income folks.

A year ago my elderly fridge had given out. Alas, Ted Lane, the inexpensive old appliance fix-it guy, had retired, so it had cost $300 for a Sears repair. I wondered what I’d do the next time it froze everything.

Then I saw that surprising notice. Wasn’t Habitat’s business just to build and rehab houses?

I decided to apply for a fridge, and I was accepted. Shortly a new one arrived, and the wheezing ancient one was carted away–though it was still working, sort of.

Later I learned that so far 1,500 have been delivered by Lowe’s thanks to Habitat’s participation in DTE’s energy saving program.

That prompted me to check Habitat for other services. Hey, they offer a free furnace inspection.

Patrick, a seasoned repairman from Habitat’s contractor, Colonial Heating & Cooling, said he’d never seen a furnace so old. He advised me that some nonessential parts were crumbling but said it would still function. The next day when the blower turned on, the heat did not. Patrick answered my call within half an hour, got it going, but said he’d better call the boss.

They recommended replacing the furnace and the water heater, since it was likely they’d keep failing. Turns out that through Habitat I could purchase both a new furnace and water heater for $40 a month for three years–if I also volunteered for eight hours for Habitat. That expense added up to far less than the whole caboodle’s retail price.

Next I considered the stove. It was down to two functioning burners and sometimes wafted a faint smell of gas through the kitchen from an extinguished pilot light.

I gently suggested to a few friends to watch for a good used stove.

My young neighbor across the street, Karla Velikan, alarmed by the gas odor, told me that finding me a used range during her frequent visits to Habitat’s ReStore–their recycle warehouse–would be her mission in life. A resourceful friend, contractor Ivano Zamperla, said he might run across one during his renovations. Sure enough, in two weeks he’d found one, free, nicer than my original, and installed it snugly between my cabinets.

That’s how, thanks to Habitat for Humanity and friends, I came to acquire a fridge, a stove, a furnace, and a water heater at almost no cost within three months. Of course, I now expect that my cottage’s newly refurbished infrastructure will last as long as I do.