Tool libraries are creating accessible alternatives to owning big ticket appliances
ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:
John Johnson was gardening with his sister when they noticed a tree was creating too much shade on their tomato plants.
JOHN JOHNSON: So I realized I needed to get a pole saw so I could trim it back.
NADWORNY: A pole saw can go for a couple hundred dollars - something John didn't want to pay for for this one small job. Instead...
JOHNSON: I think I Googled something because I'd heard of tool libraries, so I wanted to know if maybe we had one.
NADWORNY: John lives in Milwaukee, which does have a tool library. And for $25 a year, residents can become members, allowing them to rent out tools instead of paying hundreds of dollars for bulky equipment they'll most certainly only use just a couple times a year. John only needed the pole saw for about 30 minutes.
JOHNSON: I expect I'll go back in the future. It's a pretty simple process. They give you a laminated card, and there's all kinds of tools to choose from - everything from, like, cordless drills to spades to miter saws. They've got weed trimmers and lawnmowers. It's a pretty impressive operation.
NADWORNY: Programs like this have popped up in cities across the country. In Milwaukee, it's been running for over 20 years.
TRACY POLK: We loan tools to homeowners, block clubs and entities, like, nonprofit entities for repairs or, you know, cleanups and things of that nature.
NADWORNY: That's Tracy Polk. He's been in charge of Milwaukee's Tool Loan Program for nearly that whole time. And just how big is their catalog?
POLK: Oh, man, that's massive. I have tons of tools (laughter). So I do everything from lawn and garden, like, lawn mowers. I do ladders. I do loppers. I do power tools.
NADWORNY: Tracy says the most popular items are ladders, lawnmowers and other gardening tools.
POLK: I love it when people come, and they bring pictures and show me what they used the tool for. I'm getting that a lot this year. So I mean, that's fun and to see what they've actually done with the tools.
NADWORNY: But the loan program isn't just a tool shed. Members can take classes on tool training, home maintenance and finances for first-time homebuyers.
JOHNSON: In Milwaukee, houses are really pretty cheap compared to the rest of the country. So a lot of people who aren't rich own houses and are interested in doing a lot of the upkeep themselves.
NADWORNY: That's John again. He says the program inspires him to want to tackle more home improvement projects himself.
JOHNSON: There have been some things I've put off, like stuff that would require a miter saw because that was just too much of a financial commitment for me to buy something I didn't think I would use that much. But now I'm excited to try some of these things since I know I can - I don't have to make a big commitment to get the specialized tool for the job.
NADWORNY: So next time you're working on your yard or renovating your kitchen, you might just want to check in to see if you have any local lending programs.
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