In the construction trades we use a phrase called 'cobbed'. it comes from the root of 'cobbled together'. Shoemakers and repairmen are called cobblers. Shoes were one of the best inventions ever, and for most of the past couple millenia they have also been among the most expensive possessions a person has. So keeping a set of shoes going was worth a lot, and cobblers had to 'cobble together' a lot of failing shoes just because the wearer couldn't afford new.

This means that something that's 'cobbed together' is a job that wasn't done the Right Way, the way things ought to be done. The results can be humorous, dangerous, ugly and/or tragic. Ask any building inspector. Cobbed together work causes lots of fires, collapses, electrocutions, leaks and other minor inconveniences. Building codes for every trade state that 'materials shall be installed in a neat and workmanlike manner'. The "shall" means that even when you've used good parts and technically met the code, installations are expected to look good. Plumb is supposed to be plumb and level level.

However, not all cobs are bad. There are times when circumstances put you in a position where the 'right way' isn't practical or possible. For example once I ran into some light switch boxes into a cast concrete elevator shaft. The shaft had been cast before the floor and the electrician who laid out the boxes left them about 3/4 of an inch too low, and a bit to the left. The wall was to be furred out using hat chanel (steel building material that looks like a hat from overhead) and drywall. The Right Way to fix it would have been to chip out about three feet of concrete around the box, set a new one and recast. That would have been hideously expensive and set back every trade for a week. So I put in a plaster ring, offset it to the right spot and screwed it directly to the concrete. That cost far less and kept every trade on schedule. No it wasn't 'right' but it wasn't wrong either. The box was still accessible, the devices tightly nailed and the inspector didn't say a thing. Most building inspectors know the difference between something you did because you were screwed and something you did because you were lazy.

A case in point came at a warehouse I was sent to repair. Their security panel was doing double duty as a fire alarm panel, which was legal given the fact that they partitioned the security from the fire alarm, because they set an auxiliary power supply, and because the devices monitored weren't the kind that required 24 volts.

Only when I got there things weren't kosher. A fire alarm panel is required to be monitored at a central station, meaning that when someone pulls a pull station someone has to call the fire department. By code two separate phone lines must be run so that if one is accidentally cut or damaged the other will be able to call for help.

Security panels come stock with one phone line. You have to add an expansion card to get the second line. The one we use includes a couple dedicated fire zones, two sets of dry contacts (to operate (or shut down) other devices and phone lines. It's not that expensive. We dialed into the panel to check its programming. The system showed 47 zones programmed but we could find only 30 zones in the known cards, and not all of them were used. Turns out the installer used a separate panel to get some zones in the front of the building, and then cobbed together the programming so the system would reset. The extra panel was not a good thing, as we couldn't 'see' the zones from our computer, and because it actually cost more than installing the right way.

But the worst part of all was the wiring. We had three zones that wouldn't work. One we repaired with a fresh contact. Two had shorted wires between the system and the doors. Warehouses are large, and a 700 foot run is not atypical. When you pull wire the wise thing to do is to pull the wire un-spliced from the panel (or zone expander) to the device. You do this because splices fail, and troubleshooting an direct line is quick and easy.

Now splices aren't always wrong. You might bring ten pairs into junction box and branch from there. If everything is properly marked things go okay. That can save labor and isn't too bad to troubleshoot. But this guy had no concern for quality. He spliced between the main panel and the expansion card. Another splice was discovered above ceiling. Two more out on the floor, all in free air. He changed pairs like drivers at rush hour change lanes at rush hour. I finally decided to pull a new wire because it was quicker and possibly cheaper than trying to fix what was already there.

It's no wonder his company went out of business. Doing things the Right Way may cost more at first, but only during installation. If you do it right you don't get called back to fix your screw ups at company expense. You don't spend days making the system work. If you do it right then the customer is happy, and when the next job comes along he thinks of you. It means the customer doesn't tell people to avoid you. You make less money, at first. But you make more down the road.

During my years in the field I've seen lots of cobs. Some were good and clever solution to problems that didn't have a book solution. A guy who can cob like that is valuable. But I've seen cobs from people who didn't care about anything but their paycheck. They've gotten my company a lot of work, even though fixing their screw-ups is neither fun nor easy. In the long run, doing it the right way is a lot cheaper than cobbing.

Cob"bing (?), a.

Haughty; purse-proud. See Cob, n., 2.

[Obs.]

Withals (1608).

 

© Webster 1913.

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