Monday, December 20, 2010

Sticky Tiles

My brother-in-law saw me lugging leveling compound into the house and said "I have two words for you - you know I'm handy with things around the house, and I see what you're carrying in, and I have two words: sticky tiles."

Well, it turns out that would have been a better idea. I got the leveling compound down, amidst much cursing and groaning, and I got the linoleum sheet down on it. It looks kinda sorta okay. But when you walk on it, you can feel the imperfections. So, a lot of effort for substandard results. Still, it's done, which is a good thing.

So why, after receiving good advice, did I ignore it? I knew that my fingers are less than deft and would have trouble smoothing and leveling in time before that junk dried. I knew I was inexperienced at the whole deal. I knew that the hardware store was only a mile away, and that I could, actually, return the unopened 25 bag of powder. In retrospect, it would even have been better to put the sheet down over the old floor where I had scraped up ancient linoleum tiles. Yeah, that's wrong, but it would still have been better than what I ended up with.

Economists refer to the idea of "sunk cost," and how it influences economic behavior irrationally. I had already bought the sheet of linoleum. I had already bought a second bag of compound at $21 (having screwed up the first batch despite following the directions). Getting sticky tiles would involve making another decision about style, buying more stuff - including grout. The rational part of my brain, which my BIL was trying to appeal to, was getting overruled by the irrational part that says You're already waist-deep in this linoleum idea. You don't want to give that away.

The reason why it figures so prominently in economics - and sociology and psychology - is precisely because of this irrationality. The cost of the linoleum sheet is sunk. The cost of the first bag is sunk. Nothing can be done about it, and it should have no influence on the question "What is the best thing to be done now?" But it does have an influence. We grow attached to something merely because we have invested in it. And it's irrational. You can see it all around you in politics, in diplomacy, in business, in relationships - and in redoing bathroom floors. Sunk cost. Remember it.

This is the real value of a liberal arts education, BTW. You can develop intelligent-sounding explanations for everything you screw up. Which frankly, I find valuable. The next person who owns this house will not be impressed that I can rationalise so well. But heck, I don't even know the guy. I don't care.


Unknown said...

Having done things that were way beyond my skill level and done a substandard job at ten times the cost and 40 times the labor than the cheaper, easier alternative I feel for you.
It's not that you are not intelligent, far from it, it's more a guy thing, the conquering of something that is beyond you, the impression you just know you're going to make when you ace this thing.
It's a guy thing...sadly, that's why we are the stronger yet dumber of the sexes.
Just remember that there is always an easier way that will look ten times better. People may come over and look at sticky tiles and think you have no talent, but then again, who has a compass rose parquet floor in their bathroom?!

Roy Lofquist said...

I was in the software development business for 40 years. The "sunk cost" syndrome was and is responsible for almost all of the "Deathmarch Projects", as described by Ed Yourdon.

Any number of times I said "This ain't workin' - time to start over". I had to part company with management a few times but overall I was extremely productive.

(another) Jonathan said...

I'm not sure it was irrational of you to continue. Changing course requires decisions and decisions take time and energy. Are you taking this time and energy into account in your analysis? At some point in a project many of us decide that it's less trouble to move ahead than to change course.

Der Hahn said...

You say 'sunk cost', I say 'investment'.

Gringo said...

That is how it is with do-it-yourself. There is a learning period, where one learns why the pros charge what they do. Anyone who has done anything more complex than replace a flapper on a toilet will not complain about paying a plumber. It takes a pro half the time and aggravation- or less- to do it. Several times I have called on plumbers to do what I tried and couldn't do. Educated hands know what to do.

Why not rip out the linoleum and put in REAL tile, which costs $1-3/sq. ft.? Here in TX, tile often trumps wood floors. Myself, I prefer tile compared to the faux wood products offered these days. When it comes to wood floors, they don't make 'em like they used to. [A friend w a 300 year old house points out that the 100 year old wood floor in the living room is a decided downer from the old planks upstairs.]

My father was a do-it-yourselfer, but he had a leg up on the competition. His father was an IA teacher. When my father bought an old house and needed to learn how to deal with wood, he decided it was time to tap into HIS father's knowledge. As my grandfather said, "You did pretty well for someone who refused to take any of my courses."

My father left plumbing to the experts. He would install wall fixtures for electricity, but left circuit boxes to the pros.

Unfortunately, my father died before I decided to tap into his knowledge.

AVI: Given your Romanian connections, I wonder if you had come across Train to Trieste, written by Domnica Radulescu, an American academic born and raised in Romania.

Mr Tall said...

Coincidentally, Chez Tall sports new ceramic tile on its living room floor, no thanks to yours truly except for his checkbook, and his support for Mrs Tall's choice of tile.

I worked for several summers as a house painter, and even that mildest of the decorative industries is fraught with difficulty if you don't know what you're doing -- something I learned both rapidly and repeatedly!

Now I turn things over to the pros whenever possible. They need a living, I need a life.

Boethius said...

What if one of your children keeps the house?

terri said...

"What if one of your children keeps the house?"



Unless you want them shaking their heads at the memory of you and your work when they have to rip it all out.

That could be worth a few laughs if you're consciously looking down from heavenly places someday.