Dear E & V,
One of the most expensive purchases you’ll ever make — if you choose to do so — is your home.
In our society, buying a home is a sign of adulthood. If you do it right, it can be an investment and can produce a steady stream of income. If you do it wrong, it can be a signal that you have money but are financially ignorant and are only interested in the class status that it conveys.
Home developers know that second fact very well. It’s why they’ll pick a great location and use shitty quality products to build fancy looking homes — and still charge an arm and a leg to live there. They know people will overlook everything wrong with their shoddily built homes simply because some people are only concerned with status and comfort.
Those are the people that may pay with their lives.
Sound a bit dramatic?
One of the nice things about volunteering as a firefighter is that I get to learn about the pros and cons of different types of home construction, because that often dictates the tactics we use to fight a fire.
So consider this: In order to make homes and furniture cheaper, the industry has turned to using plastics, engineered wood (like plywood), and various wood glues instead of your traditional heavy lumber and metal nails/screws.
A couple things happen when you have those kinds of materials and introduce a fire into the mix:
- The products of combustion are a lot more toxic and a lot more deadly. You know what happens when you burn plastic? You create cyanide. You know what’s in the wood glue that is used plywood and other composite wood used in McHomes? Formaldehyde and Diphenylmethane-diisocyanate, two VERY toxic chemicals that produce toxic gases when burned. More and more firefighters are dying from cancer these days because of the long term exposure to these nasty chemicals.
- Modern lightweight construction simply can’t stand up to fire like heavier construction techniques. One of the main points of failure is the roof. A lot of roofs these days are built from trusses, which allow less wood to be used while maintaining the same structural integrity. However trusses fail catastrophically in fire and cause safety issues both for people trying to escape and the firefighters trying to rescue them.
Just four years ago a fire decimated an apartment building made out of this type of “cheap and easy” construction in New Jersey:
I want you to avoid finding yourself in a situation like that, so here are my tips for you:
- Quality, quality, quality in everything you by. Yes it will be more expensive up front, but it will be cheaper over the long run — lower maintenance costs and you’re less likely to have to replace it due to a catastrophic failure.
- Prioritize the aspects of a home that are important to YOU, not anybody else. Just because society implies you need a big house in a prime city location doesn’t mean you actually do.
- If you have no other options but to live in a cheaply constructed home, make sure it has sprinklers, fire alarms, and smoke detectors.
- Go live in Europe (my Hazardous Materials instructor told us that plastic in homes is much more of a problem here in the U.S. then it is over there).
No one ever thinks disasters like a fire will ever happen to them. I bet those apartment residents in New Jersey thought the same thing.
You can ALWAYS make more money, but you can never get your life back once it’s gone. Do yourself a favor and invest in quality of house, not quantity of house.
P.S. Bonus home buying tip — unless it’s earning you a regular cash flow, A HOUSE IS NOT AN ASSET. Assets produce income, unless you’re renting out part of your house to someone else then your house is not an asset. It is a liability, as many homeowners learned in the 2008-2009 housing crisis.
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.