Since many of us are homebound and attempting household projects, I thought I’d share an article that originally appeared in the Herndon Observer Newspaper and then later in my book, If Not Now, When? Enjoy.
Here’s an equation I never learned in college calculus: DASHP = 10 × TYTIWT (the duration of any simple home project = 10 × the time you think it will take). I suspect this was one of the lesser-known theorems developed by Pythagoras, the Greek math genius. He probably discovered it while installing kitchen cabinets for Mrs. Pythagoras. It’s called the Home Project Theorem.
The average male is, in fact, only averagely equipped to tackle any particular home-improvement project. Sure, we’re highly skilled in turf-reduction techniques and incandescent replacement processes (that’s mowing the lawn and changing light bulbs for you lay people). But when it comes to anything related to machinery, water flow, or electricity, we are merely apprentices. My friend Lou Heckler’s “toolbox” contains two things: a hose and a hammer. He told me, “If I can’t hit it or wet it, I can’t fix it.”
This lack of expertise is why it takes longer for most of us to do those so-called simple home projects. So, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Home Project Theorem, let me show you how it works.
A few years ago, my outdoor light timer stopped working. The timer is a handy device that automatically turns the outside lights on, so that robbers think we’re home even when we’re not. It’s a brilliant concept, and I’m sure the robbers aren’t aware that any of us even have them. Shhhhh.
Although I had hired an electrician to install the timer to the light switch, I thought, How tough can it be to put in a new one? It should only take a few minutes.
But according to the Home Project Theorem, a “few minutes” becomes 10 × (a few minutes).
Let’s break down the equation, so that you can see each time-consuming step.
Step 1 (1 hour)
I bought a new timer at the big orange home improvement store. They only had one model, and it was a different model than the one I had at home. But I figured there must be standard specifica- tions in the automatic light timer industry, and I assumed it would fit. Note: This was a false assumption.
Step 2 (20 minutes)
I prepared the work area and began the one-minute process of removing the brass switch plate. However, one of the screws was stripped. While inserting the screwdriver behind the switch plate, to put pressure on the stripped screw, my leg started to tingle and my jaw slammed shut. Apparently, I had forgotten to turn off the electricity. I let go of the screwdriver, turned off the electricity, and then removed the screw and the switch plate. To this day, I can sometimes hear rap music through my silver filings.
Step 3 (20 minutes)
I disconnected the old timer. It was a bit stuck, so I forced it off. When I did, the housing popped off and little pieces of hardware flew around the foyer. Note: It’s important to inventory parts before you lose them. That way, you know what you’re looking for and won’t discover them in the middle of the night while walking barefoot in the foyer.
Step 4 (30 minutes)
I installed the new timer device, but it didn’t work. I replaced the batteries twice and rewired it. I also turned the electricity off and on several times, just in case there was a clog in the electrical line. The off-and-on practice seems to work with plumbing projects and computers, so I thought it might also work with electricity. It did not. Finally, I got the timer working by switching the wires. Apparently, the order does matter. Then, I began the final step of replacing the switch plate. It didn’t fit. It wasn’t even close. The new timer did not fit the hole in the old switch plate.
Step 5 (20 minutes)
I uninstalled the timer and took it and the switch plate back to the big orange store to get some advice. Note: Everyone in the entire world goes to the big orange store on Saturdays looking for advice. With the herd of other amateur handymen there, it was impossible to find someone wearing an orange apron who also had electrical experience and could give me some advice. So, I was on my own.
Step 6 (1 hour)
I compared every switch plate in the store to my timer. None of them fit. I was going to have to rig something up. Note: Rigging something up never works. I decided to buy two single switch plates to cover the one double light switch hole in the wall. It seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. Note: What seems rea- sonable when you’re at the big orange store is never reasonable when you get home.
Step 7 (20 minutes)
Back home, I removed the two new switch plates from the bag and realized I had accidentally stolen a third one. It must have fallen into the bag when I was comparing sizes. Now, I was looking at one more trip to the store, to return the one I’d stolen, in addition to a possible police record. I now understood how Martha Stewart got her start.
Step 8 (15 minutes)
I installed the two switch plates where one should go and showed the finished work to my wife. She said, “That looks awful.”
Step 9 (3 hours)
I went back to the big orange store. I returned the two “awful-look- ing” switch plates and secretly slipped the stolen one back on the shelf. I came home and went online to order the correct one. Since I didn’t have a switch plate that worked, I installed the new timer and covered the open hole with cardboard. I programmed the new timer to turn the lights on at 8:00 p.m. and to go off at 7:00 a.m. I ran it through a test cycle, and it worked just fine. So I took a nap.
The next day, the lights came on at 10:00 a.m. I put a new hole in the wall.
And that is the Home Project Theorem at work.