Photo: Michael Lewis
The editor eyes his stockpile.
April 2014

"Okay, pin me down and I'll admit it: I'm more of a word guy than a numbers guy." I said this to my brother while we were deep into another DIY project. He stared back at me with that look that says, "The things you hear when you don't have a clear shot with the hammer."

The fact that I had just measured a window for a piece of trim, while he was manning the saw, and called out to him "28 and one little line and one big line past the half-inch mark" didn't give me much of a defense.

No, I am definitely not a numbers person, which is why, I suppose, I'm writing this Letter From This Old House rather than building a house, and in the picture over there I'm not standing among boxes of stocks and bonds and hundred-dollar bills but slouching amid piles of pennies. To be honest, some days it's best for me to recast the old adage "measure twice, cut once" into "measure twice, cut once, repeat as necessary."

Which complicates both my job and home life, because a house is probably more about numbers than anything else. In its design there is the mystical nature of the golden ratio that when followed keeps a house's parts, relative to the whole, so pleasingly proportioned. In its buying there is the ineluctable calculus of mortgage and taxes and insurance to paycheck. And in its owning there is so much too: the estimating of cubic feet of mulch needed to properly dress the garden beds; the length of vacuum cord plus hose as a fraction of the room size (it's always a fraction, isn't it?); and, perhaps most elemental, the distance in inches of how far from the floor and how far out from the bowl one installs the toilet-paper holder.

Don't laugh—that's an important one. Who wants to be responsible for putting such a fixture in the wrong place, dooming loved ones to a lifetime of bobbing and weaving as they pluck at the free end of the roll?

I did not, when faced with installing one in our new bathroom. Which is why I decided it was time to become more of a numbers person. The result: a story our editors put together called 64 Important Numbers Every Homeowner Should Know. It's one of those pieces that I think make This Old House so special, telling you things you didn't even know you needed to know until you knew them. Check it out. I'm sure you'll find it as useful as I did. In fact, I'm willing to bet all my pennies on it.
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