June 24, 2017

The Tarp

We have a little summer place in the woods on a pond. It’s just a small lot that we lease from a guy who owns about 100 acres in the middle of a state forest. On the lot, we have a free-standing screen house with a cold water kitchen, and a permanently parked 70s-era trailer where we sleep.

Well, that’s not completely true. We USED to have a trailer there.

During a snowstorm last winter, a tree fell on the trailer and messed up the roof pretty bad. When the thaw came, the thing leaked like the 2017 Beltway. This resulted in a truly impressive crop of what looked like penicillin all over the floor and walls.

Rather than try to return the 40ish year old trailer to its pre-biohazard state, we had it towed out and scrapped. This was obviously the only reasonable course of action, but it presented a problem:

Namely, where would we sleep?

We considered buying a new trailer to plant on the lot for the next forty years for so, but that seemed like a waste. Instead, we decided to build a second screen house. Which is to say, my wife instructed my retired and handy in-laws to build a second screen house “for their grandkids”. And bless their hearts, build it they did. We dubbed it: The Bunkhouse.

The Tarp

One of the campsite rules is that you aren’t allowed to build permanent year-round structures. In practice, this means that you can’t put a real roof on anything; you have to use a tarp. Since there are about a hundred lots on the campground, the local canvas place has lots of experience making screen house roofs.

When I ordered the tarp for the bunkhouse, the canvas people offered to do the installation. The price they quoted for our installation was $400. Now, the tarp itself was about $500, so paying $400 more to have someone put it up there and screw it down might seem a bit pricey to you.

But not to me.

I’ve replaced the tarp on the original screen house enough times over the years to know that I never ever EVER want to do it again. It’s risky, messy, clumsy, embarrassing, uncomfortable, unrewarding labor.

Just to give you an idea... Imagine climbing around on top of a twelve foot high Tinkertoy model with a screw gun in one hand and a 20 x 30 foot piece of sail canvas in the other. On a blazing hot day. With strong winds. Forty minutes from the nearest ambulance.

Even if you’re not crippled in the process, you’re almost guaranteed to screw something up royally. My favorite tarp installation memory was the time I ripped a hole in the very center of a brand new canvas roof during my botched install. I patched it with duct tape - which of course never really worked - so for the next two years I got the stink eye from my better half every time it drip drip dripped during a rain storm.

All set with that, thanks.

I GLADLY agreed to the $400 install fee. I would have paid even more.

Okay... so what’s the point?

This situation is a great example of all of the intangibles that a buyer considers when assessing the value of a purchase. Risk, stress, embarrassment, shame, fear, convenience, trust... they’re all there, driving up my percieved value of the tarp installation.

Notice what I didn’t mention?


Whether it took the installers ten minutes or ten hours was completely and utterly irrelevant to me. In fact, the faster the better because a fast install decreases the risk of a surprise rainstorm pouring down directly on our brand new plywood floor.

To be continued...



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