Today, I have the great honor of guest posting at Simple Mom, a wonderful, practical and easy-going spot on the web for home managers.  The subject of the day is problem solving and the deck I built a few years ago.

Simple problem solving skills can make the impossible possible.

You’ve probably figured out by now that math in your everyday life isn’t much like the worksheets and timed drills you suffered through in elementary and middle school. And in the real world, you can leave those way, way behind.

That’s because grownup math has more to do with problem solving than remembering that 7 times 8 is 56. Most of us don’t use trigonometry or calculus. But basic math skills figure into some of the most critical decisions of each day—how to save money, save time and save your sanity. These days, you need to know how much top soil to order for your flower bed or what time your parents will arrive in Boston, if they’re driving in from St. Louis.

Four summers ago, I decided to build a deck—something I’d never done before. This process taught me a lot about the math I already knew and how to fill in the gaps with some pretty simple problem solving skills.

Read the rest of the post, and comment there to win one of 10 paperback copies of Math for Grownups. (You can comment here, but it won’t get you in the drawing, so make sure to head over to Simple Mom.)

Film Friday is taking the day off (it’s basement is flooded and it’s worried that its rare collection of film reels–including outtakes of Citizen Kane where Orson Wells reveals that “Rosebud” is actually a reference to the Fibonacci Sequence–might be under water), but you can check out past Film Friday editions, if you really miss it.Save

If you’ve ever been to your city’s or county’s permit office, you can probably imagine how frustrated I was yesterday at around noon.  All I wanted was a demolition and construction permit for our newest renovation project.

Image courtesy of Ross Crawford

In my floral skirt and gold flip-flops (I had painted my toenails an hour earlier), I felt just a teensy bit out of place, among the blue-jeaned, unshaven contractors, who brandished rolled up blueprints and wore cell phones and tape measures clipped to their belts.. Still, I had my hand-sketched scale drawing and photos of the house as it looks now. As long as I could get the form filled out correctly, I was good to go.

But this was my second trip downtown in search of approval for our reno plans, and I was determined to get out of there with a permit this time.  That meant I was prepared to stay all afternoon — and go up to the counter as many times as I was asked to do.

This dude was in trouble. No scale drawing and no clue how to make one.

On my sixth visit to the counter — after completing the form three different times and calling my contractor once to clarify some measurements–I realized that I was just about home free.  The attendant asked me to add some notes to my paperwork, while she helped the next person in line.

This dude was in trouble.  No scale drawing and no clue how to make one.  The attendant gave him a quick lesson, along with a blank piece of paper and a scale ruler.  But it was clear that this guy was in for a long, long afternoon.

So, what is a scale drawing, and why is it important?

A scale drawing shows an object to scale. (Duh, right?) In other words, all of the measurements in a scale drawing are proportionate to the measurements of the actual object.  But making a scale drawing doesn’t burn up too many brain cells.  That’s because of three simple tools.

  1. Graph paper.  Each square on a piece of graph paper is [pmath]1/4[/pmath] inches wide and tall.  So, if you define your scale as [pmath]1/4[/pmath] inch = 1 foot, 10′ will be 10 boxes .
  2. Scale rulers: These are great if you don’t have graph paper, and you can use the same scale: [pmath]1/4[/pmath] inch = 1 foot.  (See the picture above.)
  3. Computer programs: These translate your measurements into scale drawings for you.  But if you’re like me, it’s hard to visualize how to input the correct measurements.  I prefer to just make a drawing by hand.

Scale drawings are useful in lots of situations, but I’ve found them most helpful in home improvements and gardening.  (A quick sketch of my flowerbeds keeps me from overcrowding my begonias.)  And apparently, the city permits office wants to see them, too!

(Wondering if I got my permit? I can proudly say, yes!  And I know for a fact that my scale drawing helped.)

What math have you used in home improvements?  Is there a time when math got in the way of a home improvement project?