Today at Berkeley Lab

In Today’s ‘Throw-Away’ Society, Howdy Goudey Works to Create a ‘Culture of Repair’

— By Keri Troutman

Howdy Goudey, a scientific engineering associate in Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area (ETA) has always enjoyed “tinkering,” so he was intrigued when he first heard about “fixit clinics”— community events where people bring small broken items to get free repair help from fixit “coaches.” Goudey now volunteers as a coach with the nonprofit Fixit Clinic organization at numerous Bay Area events.

Fixit clinics, which have become increasingly popular across the nation over the last few years, help people fix all kinds of small items, from broken zippers, toasters, and electric toothbrushes to computer monitors, Blu-Ray players, and microwaves. The clinics are typically held in libraries, museums, and other easy-to-access community spaces, and staffed with an array of volunteer fixit coaches, equipped with tools and sewing machines at the ready.

“The Fixit Clinic philosophy is basically about empowering people to fix their own broken items and reuse them, in an effort to reduce waste and build a ‘culture of repair,’” says Goudey. Participants work alongside coaches to repair their items, creating an opportunity to learn new skills. A central component of the Fixit Clinic mission is to use small appliance repair to shift attitudes about consumption and sustainability.

Hands-on work has also been a part of Goudey’s career at Berkeley Lab since starting as a student here in 1993. Experimental design and setup, along with the inevitable repairs, definitely require tinkering skills. Goudey now spends much of his time doing physical heat transfer experiments and infrared thermography to collect data to validate thermal models that are used to rate windows.

“I grew up tinkering — taking things apart and putting them back together was a fun activity for me; something I did along with my dad,” says Goudey. “These days, it seems like not as many people have that fixit mindset.”

Organizations like Fixit Clinic and The Culture of Repair aim to change that mindset, both among the general population and at the product design level. Both organizations track repair “hacks” and monitor what leaves fixed so they can collect data around what is repairable. “It’s important to look at what kinds of failures are causing people to throw things away,” says Goudey. “And think about whether anything can be changed at the design level to reduce that.”

Go here to sign-up for a Fixit Clinic, or to volunteer as a coach. Go here for information on upcoming Repair Café events.