The devil in the details

Several years ago, the ceiling in my mom’s kitchen collapsed. The kitchen suddenly became a soggy mess, awash not only in pieces of ceiling material and insulation, but also in the water that had built collected on top of it and eventually caused it to give way. Clearly she had a leak.

The trouble was, it didn’t make any sense. The summer days had been hot and dry. All the bathroom plumbing on the second floor had recently been inspected and shored up. Besides that, there wasn’t a bathroom over the kitchen anyway. Like Alice in her adventures in wonderland, the situation kept getting curiouser and curiouser.

Eventually, the repairman figured it out. My mom’s air conditioner had a problem. Wait, what? The ceiling collapsed from the weight of some misplaced water, not a blast of cold air. As it turns out, air conditioners typically have a small condensate pump attached, whose function it is to pump away the water that has accumulated from normal operation. (You’ve probably seen window air conditioners dripping onto the ground on a hot day. Click HERE if you don’t quite get it.) Hers failed, and because it was tucked away in the attic, no one knew. Without a pump to send it away, the grungy water accumulated on the floor until the ceiling weakened and gave way.

Interestingly, that pump is a pretty insignificant piece of equipment, both in stature and price. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a tiny piece of her whole central air system. Who cares about a hundred-dollar pump when you’ve paid eight grand (more or less) to retrofit your house with a cooling system? If it fails, it should be easy to replace; there’s no need to worry about such a small detail.

Unless, of course, ignoring a teensy, tiny detail turns your house upside down.

My mom couldn’t use her kitchen for months–having your coffee maker in your living room gets old fast–and it cost thousands of dollars to repair the damage and replace her ruined kitchen. All for a hundred-dollar pump.

Ignoring the details can be costly. Very, very costly.

Aside from paying thousands of dollars for a home repair, the possibilities are endless. A misplaced decimal, for example, could make thousands of dollars of difference. A hurried email response could be sent to the wrong person, with disastrous consequences. A missing bolt could lead to a plane crash. I could make these up all day.

I think I finally figured out the saying, The devil is in the details. He’s there when you’re not. You’ve given him room to operate.

P.S. A colleague’s post encouraging regular maintenance of critical and not-so-critical systems inspired me today. He had no idea that his musings would set me off. If you’re interested, check it out at FranklinInTheField.com

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