Why use Imperial units?

I have seen so many non-US designers condescendingly scoff at Americans for using Imperials units. I’ll admit, the metric system has an advantage. It is much easier to work equations on a calculator when you stay in metric units.

But I wonder how many of these people actually build anything.

Here is an example of the advantages inherent in the Imperial system. Let’s say you have an 8 foot wall and you have 2 electrical boxes. You want the space from the wall to equal the space between boxes. Take 8 and divide it by 3…well…carpenters work with a tape measure which measures in either feet and inches or just in inches. 8 feet is the same as 96 inches.  Take 96 and divide by 3. It’s pretty easy. 32″ between the boxes and 32″ to each wall. Now do the same with 8 meters. You get 8/3 = 2+2/3 = 2.66666666666666666666.


This is even more apparent when working with 1 foot. You might not now this, but 1 foot is 12 inches and 12 is a highly composite number, sometimes called an anti-prime. 12, 24, 36, 48 and 60 are all highly composite numbers. These numbers in inches correspond with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 feet. 10 is not a highly composite number. When you try to divide 10 by a number, you frequently get an irrational number.

10/3 =3 .333333……
10/4 = 2.5
10/5 = 2
10/6 = 1.666666…..
10/7 = 1.428571…..
10/8 = 1.25
10/9 = 1.1111111….

4 out of 8 possible factors (50%) give an irrational numbers

Now let’s do 12


3 out of 10 possible factors (30%) are irrational numbers.

Think of the clock. There are 60 minutes in and hour and 24 hours in a day. 60 and 24 are both highly composite numbers. Sometimes there is hidden knowledge in the old way of doing things.

I’m not suggesting one is better than the other. I am suggesting that those who think they are superior because of the units they use might be a bit arrogant and a bit ignorant. It’s a bit ironic that the people with the superiority complex find fractions to be so difficult.

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