February 14, 2011

Home Improvement Vs the Divorce Rate

By Charles Moffat - February 2011.

CANADA - When I was younger every time my parents decided to do home renovations I thought for sure they might get divorced several times during various incidents/arguments.

These days I've concluded that they're just plain stuck together for a variety of reasons and they seem to happier now that all of birds have flown the nest and eventually the chirping of grandchildren will be heard.

Nevertheless it does make me wonder what percentage of divorces are brought on by home repair, improvement, renovations, etc.

ie. Lets say you like swimming pools... My parents put in their swimming pool in 1974 roughly (I am guessing the year, I admit) and from what my mother says that was the first true test of their marriage. It was argument after argument and probably a few migraine-ish headaches too. (Probably a lot less stressful to have someone else dig and install the swimming pool, but my parents like being Do-It-Yourselfers.)

And then there was the deck beside the swimming pool. That was actually two projects, one when they first built the pool and the deck, and again in the 1990s when they installed a new deck because the old one was rotting.

Trust me, patio furniture was the least of their worries.

Then there was the matter of how to heat the pool. My parents decided to use a low-tech option of solar heating, using black tubing that was coiled up on top of the roof. The tubing absorbed the heat from the sun and during hot summer days would reach 110 degrees F or hotter. The water flowed through the tubing, into the pool and that kept the pool water in the 60 to 75 degree range depending on the time of year.

However for this system to work the water had to be pumped through all those tubes. The pump was notorious for breaking down and only a few years ago did my parents finally agree to buy a better pump which wouldn't break so easily. It was a nuisance to fix and the new one apparently is much better.

Its the same problem with cars too. During the 70s, 80s and early 90s my parents had a tendency to drive beaten down cars that always needed repairs. They were a constant source of arguments. I eventually argued (and I am proud to say I won this argument and convinced them despite being a teenager at the time) that they would be better off buying a new car that was in good condition and wouldn't require repairs constantly. I argued that the cost of repairs on a car not worth that much would be better spent on a newer car that was more reliable and would actually save them money over the long term because they wouldn't need to spend so much on maintenance/repairs.

I have also been trying (unsuccessfully so far) to convince my parents to buy a windmill (or 3) and a couple solar panels for their home. Instead they decided to buy an electric gas-powered generator, because they were more worried about black outs/etc than they were worried about saving money.

When it comes to home improvement my parents (and many other people like them) do like to save money. The real question is how much will they save and how quickly.

Well one of the quickest and easy ways is home insulation. And there's many ways to do it, ie. rigid foam insulation and similar wall systems. That is a much easier sell for getting them to save money because they see it very quickly on their gas heating bills (especially with gas prices going up).

And once the insulation is in place there is also Geothermal Heating Systems.

And thanks to various government programs, like the Ontario MicroFIT program, home owners can also get income tax rebates on home improvements they make. The incentives are out there if Canadians bother to do the research and the math and calculate how much they need to install in order to either break even, save money, or even make money by selling electricity back into the grid.

As our society becomes more technological savvy (complete with wireless broadband internet, mobile laptops, smartphones, complex sorting and manufacturing software, computers, servers and any number of gadgets working/charging off the grid) we are going to need a lot more electricity. In fact our electricity use in Ontario has gone up 45% in the last 8 years. By 2020 it is expected to double 2010 numbers.

And small surprise. Even as I write this I have a fridge, a freezer, a heater, a cellphone charger and not one but TWO computers running at the same time. 10 years ago would have seen less stuff all sucking energy simultaneously.

So we NEED more electricity. And thus electricity prices are going to skyrocket as we run into a shortage of sources to draw energy from. (See my recent post about the Niagara Tunnel for one innovative way we are finding more electricity.)

But not everyone agrees on how to save money and get more electricity at the same time. Thus it can also be a source of arguments for many families, as money issues frequently are.

My parents once took the kids to see psychologists because they were apparently contemplating divorce. They even saw a marriage counsellor. I never got all the facts about what was really stressing my parents out, but statistics suggest it may have been a combination of stress and sex-related causes.

And because I am uncomfortable talking about my parents' sex life, lets just change the topic real quick and go back to the topic of divorce.

I mean they could have gone down that road. Divorced, sold the farm, they are not the type of people to hire a home stager (which is a much more modern idea).

Instead my parents stayed together and seem to be focusing on their love of travel now, getting away from home and driving all over North America in their relatively new car which doesn't break down so much. And they've focused on their interests of gardening and various hobbies. ie. In recent years my mother has taken up the bagpipes and drumming, both of which my father has been rather supportive of despite the noise.

I suppose they could have been like our family friends Jim and Sharon who took dance classes and go square dancing every Friday night, but to each their own.

In other news, Happy Valentines Day!

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