Design & DIY

Right-to-repair movement gains momentum

toaster being repaired Illustration by Drew Shannon

One or two Saturdays a year, Dave Baar lugs a carload of diagnostic equipment, tools, and “a whole lot of electrical parts,” into the Campbell River Sportsplex. Then, after setting up his repair table, he makes a small but radical gesture. “I do repairs on anything for free, for anyone who comes and asks, as long as I’ve got the time,” says the retired physicist and lifelong tinkerer. Like other volunteers at the B.C. town’s Repair Café, Baar is pushing back against a throwaway world. He’s defending a right dear to many cottagers—the right to repair. “The things we throw out contribute to growing landfills,” he says. “Twenty per cent of global CO2 emissions come from manufacturing. If we simply make the goods we have last longer, we don’t need as much manufacturing.”

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They don’t make stuff like they used to. In some ways, that’s a good thing—products are affordable and efficient. But they’re rarely designed for longevity or ease of repair anymore. “In a lot of small appliances, manufacturers use fasteners that require special tools,” Baar says. Meanwhile “digital locks”—bits of menacing guard-dog software—impede repairs on everything from tractors to home appliances. Enter the “right to repair” movement, of which the Repair Café is an example. You may not be able to tell your Phillips from your Robertson, but polls show most people like the idea of repair, says Alissa Centivany, a Western University media and information studies professor studying the movement. Attempting to make things whole “is a very foundational part of being human,” she says, one that’s being thwarted by modern design.

Right-to-repair supporters want to throw open digital locks and make replacement parts, specialized tools, repair manuals, and schematics available. They want goods that can be fixed, not junked. And they want consumers to understand what they’re buying. France, for example, recently introduced an Indice de réparabilité, a rating system that grades a variety of new appliances and electronics on the ease and cost of repair. Right to repair has made less headway in Canada. A federal private member’s bill to open digital locks “for the purpose of diagnosing, maintaining, or repairing a product,” is before the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology. Previous bills have failed at both provincial and federal levels. “Manufacturers have a strong interest in making sure right to repair legislation is not passed,” Centivany says. Backed by product-safety arguments and motivated to control parts and after-sales service, “companies have a lot of lobbying power.”

“If people step up and learn about repairs, they can tackle the basics, such as replacing an appliance cord or a light switch,” Baar says. Even a more complex repair, like replacing a microwave’s interlock switch, is possible with a little research and experience: Baar has saved ovens from the trash by simply replacing the cheap switches that turn the lights on when the door’s open and allow power to flow when it’s closed. “In what I do,” he says, “most repairs are pretty easy.”

Workshoppers of the cottage, unite! What do you need to repair? Your fix-it list helps us plan stories. Email This story was originally published in the March/April issue of Cottage Life magazine.