By Geoff Olson
Home renovation. Everybody’s talking about doing it. Or doing it and then talking about it with everybody.
How do I put this delicately? It’s bad enough when so many people go on about heritage this drizzled with artisanal that, or refer to green beans as haricot verts. But when foodies and hipsters put a 5 percent down payment on a million-dollar Vancouver crack shack, suddenly they’re seeing the world through Mike Holmes’ cement-dusted safety goggles.
From first-time buyers to empty nesters who’ve morphed into bling-addled bowerbirds, everyone wants a piece of a gravity-defying real estate market. And they just can’t shut up about sheet rock. Too many times to count, I’ve found myself trapped in conversations with people oversharing their epic schemes for heated floor tiles, or the like.
I know there are plenty of worse things to spend money on than granite-top kitchen islands with shiny gas ranges, but people usually keep mum about their drug addictions or big losses on bodog.com – tales which are generally more interesting than home improvement overshoots. When did those of us with extra bucks turn into such bourgeois bores?
Or maybe it’s just me, a guy who has trouble with any tool more complicated than a pencil, and who is no more capable of wiring a laneway home than back-engineering the Large Hadron Collider out of Lego blocks. A spatially-challenged sort who failed to board the home improvement bandwagon, but who remembers a time when people talked about other things – like books, films, music, politics, and ideas.
On second thought, it’s not me. It’s everyone else. And their televisions.
Yes, the boob tube. There’s strong evidence that HGTV and other purveyors of reno-porn are responsible for the outbreak of spacklespeak. A report from Altus Group says home improvement shows have set off an explosion of home reno spending in Canada. The spending has doubled in the past 15 years, with a spike in 2013.
(Speaking of explosions, the much-anticipated Mayan Apocalypse of 2012 failed to put a dent in the home reno market. But for a short time afterward at Rona, you could pick up a deeply discounted, MesoAmerican calendar wheel made from resin. Perfect for the solarium.)
75 per cent of home renovation spending in the past 15 years “went towards improvements, with the rest going towards repairs and conversions,” notes a recent CBC report . Not surprisingly, Canadians have a significantly higher household debt-to-income ratio than their neighbours to the south, a people not known for delayed gratification.
That’s just fine with me. By all means, go stimulate the Canadian economy like Miley Cyrus with a giant foam rubber finger. Flip your house like a damn pancake. Just don’t share your fables of the reconstruction with me.
Not that you’re likely to get a chance; I have constructed a conversational igloo out of friends’ bodies, so to speak. Most of them are renters, so the talk rarely strays into reno territory. But I admit to one minor problem with this satisfying arrangement. As a homeowner among renters, I have more to fear from entropy than they do. My friends have their strata councils and cooperative members to keep track of problems. All I have is myself, a wife, two pets, and a house that is falling apart.
Don’t get me wrong. The roof is fine and…well, the roof is fine. The deck back needs repairs, the copper pipes are well past their best-before date, and the kitchen floor has a slight pitch to it. You get the picture. (See how boring other people’s domestic infrastructure issues are?)
Because of my aversion to home reno, my least favourite topic for conversation has become one my partner’s favourites, by default. And her focus isn’t misplaced. We either have to talk about some serious domestic projects or move into something more solid.
But every time I think about the scale of the work required, I am paralyzed into tongue-tied inaction. And then I worry about what I could become: the stranger sitting across from you in a coffee shop, saying in a hushed voice, “You think you’ve got problems? Let me tell you what contractors found when they ripped out our bathroom tiles. It was like a scene out of True Detective.”
The Vancouver Courier, July 25