As you’ll know well, every project throws up unexpected challenges, no matter the scope or scale. For some, this is part of the fun: solving problems on your feet and figuring out how to ‘work around’ obstacles. Yet anyone in the know understands that there are always costs to this approach.
Even seemingly minor issues like not having the proper cable identification kit can produce serious disruptions a little further down the line; from using the correct crimping tools and terminals for the job to having a solid stock of cable ties, having the right product to hand at the exact moment you need it is vital for any project’s success.
The problem is this: the costs of ‘making do’ are often not immediate, or even necessarily clear. We tend to discount such ‘hidden’ costs, telling ourselves that we will fix the problem properly at some later date; quality is sacrificed at the altar of ease, and the worst part is we end up believing that we’re actually saving time and money.
This isn’t only wrong: it can be legitimately dangerous. Let’s consider a few of the true costs ‘work arounds’ can accrue:
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, the third most common cause of home fires is electrical distribution systems; 19% of non-residential building fires and 13% of residential fires are due to equipment, appliances, or electrical malfunctions.
While few of us are unaware of the health and safety implications of our cabling projects, it is important to remember quite how serious a concern safety ought always to be.
Anything from poor maintenance to under-performing fixings can have huge knock-on effects, leading to systemic failures which can either directly cause or at the very least exacerbate problems; not having the right tools for an electrical job is, therefore, a serious gamble with safety.
The terrible reality is that such safety problems do not always make themselves immediately apparent; the severity of a fire or serious electrocution is often so extreme and difficult to imagine that we overlook the very real possibility it could happen. While making do with ‘near enough’ correct tools might save time in the short term, it is often at the cost of proper safety precautions.
Though whether it even saves time is not so obvious.
The most common explanation for ‘making do’ is simple: it is faster than waiting to get hold of the right tools. While this makes total sense – getting hold of the right tools can take time if you don’t keep a small stock of essential cable accessories – it tends to look at the problem on a rather short timeframe.
If we think about things over a longer period, the equation looks very different: making do means having to spend far more time repairing, refitting, maintaining or replacing down the line. And that’s not even taking into account the fact ‘working around’ problems actually tends to make a job take longer.
The ‘sunk cost’ fallacy applies here: if we’ve spent twenty five minutes trying to make do without the proper tools for a fixing, we find it hard to just ‘chalk it up to experience’ and change approaches. Instead, we soldier on because we don’t like the idea that we’ve just wasted twenty five minutes.
This, inevitably, leads to even more time being wasted on an inferior finish.
It’s often hard to weigh up the value of a job well done. While we would all like things to look great and work perfectly, the reality is we only have so much time, energy and skill; completing the job is ultimately more important than nailing every little detail of the scope.
The problem with this is it becomes difficult to discern what is a legitimate compromise and what’s simply laziness and/or poor planning; if we don’t have the right tools for the job, it’s easy to tell ourselves this or that detail simply isn’t important enough to sweat over.
Those in the know will see how this ultimately adds up though: a tiny compromise here, a small concession there, and eventually the entire project is seriously diminished.
The cost of fixing and improving these compromises is not only the time it takes to do so.
Making do with the tools you have to hand often comes down to saving money: getting hold of the exact right size and spec of every cabling accessory one might need is expensive. But it ought to be clear by now that the savings you make cutting corners are ultimately not savings – they are simply delays in spending.
Not only are you unlikely to make a long term saving – because, at some point, you will have to pay for the correct fittings, the right cable identification and whatever else you’ve scrimped on – you are actually likely to make a loss.
Purchasing the correct tools will cost the same at a later date as it does right now, and having needlessly used incorrect tools and accessories, you will have wasted whatever money you spent on those as well. The net cost is greater than simply biting the bullet and investing in the right stuff right now.
So, what should we do?
When you factor all of this together – the compromised safety, the loss of time, the unnecessary spending and the less-than-ideal finish – it becomes clear that the true ‘cost’ of making do without the right tools is far greater than it seems.
All of which begs the question: why do so many of us continue to ‘make do’?
The reasons are threefold:
First, we don’t consider the true costs. As we’ve seen, the delayed repercussions and the illusion that we’re actually being ‘smart’ with our time and money make work arounds appear the sensible, ‘practical’ option.
Second, getting hold of the right tools is often more difficult than it ought to be. Too often, we need to go to numerous different sources – each with different delivery times and costs – in order to get all the different cabling accessories we need.
And finally, not enough of us keep a solid stock of essential cabling accessories. The result is that we don’t have the right tools to hand when we need them; this in turn causes us to think of getting hold of them as costly, rather than rightly understanding that what is costly is not having them in the first place.
The case is rarely made for keeping a stock of essential cabling accessories; while most of us – whether professional, hobbyist or ammeter – understand the value of keeping, say, a decently stocked tool box, cabling accessories are less widely appreciated as a necessity and tend to be bought on a need-to-use basis.
The cost of this, as we’ve seen, can be dire; it’s time that we all start knowing better.