Nearly eleven years ago I bought a house. I did it mostly for financial reasons, since I was single back then, and didn’t have any family considerations. It was 2010, and the real estate market was basically at rock bottom, so I knew I could get a good deal. Also, the government was giving away $8,000 in cash to anyone who bought a house that year.
After a rather lengthy and annoying closing process (don’t get me started about how irritating that is), I signed for the house and moved in. After hours of moving in boxes (which is pretty good exercise, burning maybe 200-300 calories per hour), I sat down to relax in my new home. It was a nice place in a good neighborhood. It was cheaper than renting. And did I mention that I was going to get $8,000 in government cheese out of the deal?
Of course, it ended up being slightly more than I bargained for. I quickly found myself making multiple trips to Home Depot to buy gardening tools, a lawn mower, and various other things I’d need to keep the house together. The first project was to level out the patio, which had roots underneath it pushing up the pavers. I mentioned in my second piece that I eventually tore up the patio completely. But back then, it was enough to just make it flat enough to walk on. I didn’t want anyone tripping over them and suing me.
So I spent an afternoon pulling up the pavers that were off kilter, chopping out the offending roots underneath, and restoring the patio to a reasonably flat state. It took about four hours on a Saturday, and I know now that I burned over a thousand calories doing that. Of course, there was a downside. I woke up the next morning and went out to the back porch to see a giant black snake waiting on me.
Apparently, he was perturbed at all of the clanging about the day before, and decided to greet me in the morning. Fortunately, this wasn’t the poisonous kind (I Googled it), so I shooed it away with a broom. I thought about killing it, but that kind of snake eats rats, so I figured having him around would prevent vermin from getting in the house.
But that’s beside the point. The point is, buying a house isn’t just good financially. It’s good physically. According to the Cronometer app, chopping wood can burn just under 400 calories per hour and landscaping work maybe 300 or so per hour. The work you’ll need to do to keep your house in good shape is also a decent way to keep yourself in good shape.
I discovered this again when the sink fixtures broke in the bathroom. After getting estimates from a few local plumbers on repairs, I made an important discovery. Plumbing is an absolute racket. The amount they charge for even basic repairs is just criminal.
Fortunately, accountants like myself have a critical skill. We’re all awful cheapskates. It’s part of the accounting skill set to be a miserly skinflint. And because of this, I refused to be ripped off, and decided to do it myself. This is much easier in the days of YouTube. For almost any home repair you can think of, there’s at least one YouTube video of some guy doing it. So I just had to watch some other guy replace the fixtures and then awkwardly ape what he did. It only took me about four times as long. And of course required another trip to Home Depot for parts.
It was a bit more of a workout than I expected, because to repair this type of sink (the kind that hangs off the wall), I had to completely unhook it from the wall, carry it to the garage (they aren’t light), and then install the new fixtures in the back. And the old fixtures were a bit rusty, so there was a fair amount of wrenching and cussing involved. All of which burned calories. Well, the wrenching did. Not the cussing. Although that does have certain mental health benefits at times.
According to the Cronometer app, an hour of plumbing work burns just under 200 calories. This was another several hours of exercise. It would have been worth it just for the savings (the parts cost about a tenth of what the plumbers were going to charge), but I also probably burned at least 600 calories with my amateurish plumbing efforts. Despite my limited experience, the finished project looked fine. A real pro wouldn’t have taken all afternoon, but it was worth it.
When I got married, I noticed that marital life only added to the number of physical home maintenance tasks that I was obligated to do. My wife would find all sorts of tasks about the house that needed a man’s input. I tried to inform her that we live in an age of equality and she could probably do these herself, but discovered rather quickly that this apparently does not apply in certain circumstances. And apparently the determination as to when these modern standards apply was entirely within her discretion. Anyway, I’ve discovered that hard work tends to make me healthier (mentally and physically), so I didn’t complain too much.
One of the projects she dumped on me was appliance repair. My wife told me one day that the dryer that came with the house wasn’t working. YouTube came to the rescue again, and I discovered that the problem was that the belt was broken. So instead of buying a new dryer for several hundred dollars or paying a similar sum to a ripoff artist (AKA a repairman), I decided to buy a new belt for twenty dollars or so and replace it. Of course, this is easier said than done. Replacing a belt requires you to dismantle the dryer, pull out the drum (I.E. the cylindrical spinny thingy) wrap the belt around that, all while threading it through the motor. Which you literally have to do blind, since the drum blocks your view.
I was sweating like crazy by the time I was done with this. It was a lot of effort. Probably another 500 calories burned. But it was worth it. The dryer worked for another two years. It did start making an awful, screeching, banshee-like whine after a few months, but I learned to ignore that. Occasional annoying noises (which can be muffled by closed doors) are a small price to pay when you can save several hundred dollars. I would just turn some music on (like Metallica) when the dryer was making the noise, and it blended right in.
And certain outdoor activities can come with marriage too. I never thought of myself as a gardener, but my wife insisted on starting a garden in the backyard. And she made good progress growing all sorts of plants. You don’t know what you’re missing until you eat vegetables straight out of the ground. It’s much better than something that’s been sitting on the shelf for days. And the responsibility of maintaining the garden increasingly became mine, since she lost interest after seeing a few snakes in the backyard. I told her they weren’t poisonous, but I was rather sternly informed that was irrelevant. Fortunately, tilling the garden can burn 200-350 per hour depending on how vigorously you work at it. So the extra responsibility was actually a blessing.
Apart from simple repair work, improving and adding to your house is beneficial. It improves and adds to the value of your house and can also improve and add to your health. One project I’ve thought about is making a fire pit. I realize a fire pit seems redundant in a place like Florida, but it’s nice to have a cookout in the summer, and useful in the two weeks of winterish (below 60 degrees Fahrenheit) weather we get in the first two weeks of January. I had some experience in masonry working on a project at the Wormsloe Historical Site in Savannah in my youth, so it’s not that hard. And masonry work burns 140 per hour, which is decent. When you consider that these projects take hours (if not days) you’ll make up in quantity what you lack in quality.
I’ve also discovered that electrical work can burn just over 200 per hour. The downside of course is electrocution and death. And I generally avoid anything that requires me to go into the walls, since it’s likely I would just make a mess. But if you can do this yourself, it’s worth it. Electricians are almost as absurdly expensive as plumbers.
Another group of ripoff artists are painters. If you want to save money and burn calories, paint your own house. That’ll burn 200 calories per hour. And save probably $2,000-$10,000. Just make sure you leave the windows open, so you don’t get high on the paint fumes. Paint sniffers are probably that lowest level junkie that other junkies look down upon. It would be a shame to become one by accident.
And then there are the normal upkeep tasks. I have to mow the lawn every two weeks. And I have to rake the yard every two weeks, because Florida is weird. The weather is constantly like summer, but the trees seem to think it’s always autumn and shed leaves like crazy. This also requires me to clean the leaves from the gutters regularly. Every spring I have to do maintenance on the sprinkler system. And I occasionally have to clean mold from the side of the house, since the humidity of Florida is a breeding ground for all sorts of gross stuff. This general manual labor burns 150 per hour and frequently fills up an afternoon. So any day I do a lot of this work, I’ve burned off anywhere from 400-800 calories.
And then there’s the thing men hate the most. Housekeeping. But the various mopping, cleaning, vacuuming, and so forth will burn 120-260 calories an hour, depending on how vigorous the work is. And my wife gets a workout too. Because if I do the cleaning, she scoffs at my work, which is not up to her standards, and just redoes everything I did. I’ve noticed a general difference between cleanliness standards of men and women. Like most men, I’m fine with any environment that doesn’t require a hazmat suit. My wife, on the other hand, would prefer that the floor be so clean that we can perform open heart surgery on it should the need arise.
So, buying a house is good for you in a lot of ways. The investment will probably grow in value over time, and the amount of work it takes to maintain it will cause your belly to shrink in size over time. It seems like a lot of responsibility (and it is) but it’s worth it. Besides, a gym membership costs money. A well maintained house increases in value, so it’s like you’re getting paid for your exercise. And saving for retirement. And generally feeling better about yourself. So buy a house and start pouring work into it. Your financial, physical and mental health will all be better for it.
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