Why being your own boss is not always the best idea

NOT Barney! Photo credit: www.rigutter.com
NOT Barney! Photo credit: http://www.rigutter.com

I have contractors in the house this morning to add insulation in my attic. The city and state where I live are promoting energy efficiency and I applaud them for that. Much of the cost is paid for by the state, so why wouldn’t you want to change your light bulbs, add insulation, and just try to save money on your bills?

The one thing about construction, plumbing, and home remodeling jobs is that no one has figured out a way to outsource them. Most of the contractors I’ve hired have been very nice people to be around, but also very independent, with the type of personality that one needs to work on their own.

I was reminded of Barney, a neighbor’s brother-in-law who thought that working for himself was the only way to become financially secure. He tried many things over the years: drywall installer, house painter, landscaper, general contractor.

The problem was, Barney wasn’t very good at any of them. He tried installing wood burning stoves for a while until the Fire Marshal threatened to have him arrested.

During the Energy Crisis in the 1980s, Americans saw their fuel costs soar and got serious (temporarily) about reducing their bills. One popular method to keep home heating costs down was to add blown-in insulation to the house.

Barney met someone who worked for a home insulation company. (He met him at a bar, so we can’t verify the degree of accuracy in his information.) Barney was excited. He decided that he had finally found his path to riches. He did a little research on the type of equipment he would need. He found a supplier who advertised “Get into Spray Foam–Cheap!”

Barney took the brochure to all his friends and relatives. It was a “fast-growing field” with “high profitability.” It said so right in the brochure. All Barney needed was several thousand dollars so that he could buy the equipment he needed. His friends turned him down. Most of his family refused, too, since they were never reimbursed for the mowers for his failed landscaping business.

Barney’s sister Phyllis was always a soft touch, however, and he convinced her that this enterprise was the real deal. She agreed, over the objections of her husband.  Then Phyllis reminded him that if Barney couldn’t find a way to support himself soon, he might have to move in with them.

Phyllis wrote the check and Barney was so grateful that he told her he would insulate her home at no cost. It was an odd choice of words since Phyllis was paying for all the equipment, but she agreed. She might as well get her home insulated, so why not have Barney do it?

Two weeks later, Barney pulled his truck and new equipment trailer into Phyllis’ driveway, anxious to start his first job.

The plan was to drill 2-inch circular holes in the exterior siding and blow the insulation in between the wall studs. Once all the exterior walls were insulated, Barney plugged the holes. He was convinced this was his best business idea ever.

He started on the north side of the house. He drilled the hole, inserted the nozzle of the spray equipment and turned it on. After a few seconds, the overflow insulation would spill out of the hole, showing Barney that the space was fully insulated.

Barney worked his way around the house. Drill, fill, spill. Drill, fill, spill.

Things were going well.

Barney moved to the back of the house and drilled the next hole. The drill went through easily and then something strange happened: He had hit something so hard that it froze the drill. Maybe he hit a wall stud, Barney thought. He moved a few feet to his right and…it happened again.

Puzzled, Barney moved over a few more feet and Success! The drill went through cleanly. He inserted the nozzle and began pumping in the insulation.

As he waited for the insulation to spill out of the hole, Barney started daydreaming about how he could expand his business. Maybe he could buy more equipment and hire some people. Meanwhile, he kept pumping insulation into the hole. It took a while before Barney wondered if something was wrong. The other spaces filled up quickly. This one just kept pumping.

As Barney considered his options, his nephew Joey came out of the house. “Hi, Uncle Barney. What are you doing to Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom?”

Barney shut down the equipment and went inside the house to investigate.

The good news is that Barney had the answer to why the previous two attempts to drill ended so strangely: he had drilled straight through the wall and into the headboard of the bed in the master bedroom. The bad news is that Joey had already brought his mother and father into the bedroom to show them what Uncle Barney just did: He drilled straight through the wall of his sister’s closet, which was over 50% full of the fluffy insulation.

Barney would have investigated further if his sister hadn’t been screaming at him so loudly. She was especially upset about how he had ruined her shoes.

He decided to pack up his equipment and go home for the evening.

I wish I could tell you if Barney ever recovered from his mishap, but Phyllis was my sole source of information and she refused to speak about it ever again.  So the moral to this little story is this:

You should always try to work for a very smart boss. This is especially true when you work for yourself.


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