April 18, 2009

DEFLATION ISN'T JUST A MATTER OF HOW MANY FEWER HOURS YOU WORK TO PROVIDE A HOUSE THAN YOUR DAD DID...:

Refurbishing Normal (ROB WALKER, 4/19/09, NY Times)

Last year, The Journal of Industrial Ecology published a comprehensive analysis of the “consumption drivers of the Danish bathroom boom.” O.K., that sounds pretty esoteric. But the study’s authors, Maj-Britt Quitzau and Inge Ropke, were getting at a bigger idea that’s easy to relate to: How do consumers decide, in our relationship with material culture, what is “normal”? The authors documented how the ways in which some Western homeowners answered that question between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s had some negative ecological consequences.

Clearly our notions of “normal” change as a result of innovations or economic circumstances or even the vagaries of fashion. Quitzau and Ropke were looking at the way people in one country think about one room, but the pattern is familiar. A century ago, having a bathroom at all was “a sign of status,” they wrote. Gradually the bathroom became normal, as did more frequent showering and so on. And around the mid-1990s, a new wave of bathroom remodeling transformed a previously function-oriented and hygienic aesthetic into one of “identity formation.”

Consumers spent more and more time in the bathroom with a new array of personal-care products needing more space. Double sinks offered togetherness; elaborate spa tubs offered escape. Now a showroom of sorts, the bathroom required high-end materials. Additional bathrooms eliminated wait time; even television sets and radios popped up in what was becoming, for some, a “retreat.” Not surprisingly, the cumulative effect included using a lot more water and energy. Observers of the American remodeling business have seen similar trends. [...]

A tougher barrier may be that consumers simply dislike anything that feels like a step backward. “No one has ever said, ‘My water pressure is too high’ or ‘I want one sink instead of two,’ ” says Michael Strong of Brothers Strong, contractors in Houston.


...but the near incomparability of those two houses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2009 7:37 AM
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