I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak recently to members of Balance Whanganui – a peer support group for mental health and addiction. They were an excellent, engaged group during the nearly two-hour presentation on eco-thrifty renovation. It was particularly enjoyable for me because they laughed at all of my jokes.
It was also enjoyable because I had the opportunity to draw parallels between healing a home and healing a mind. At its core, we have transformed a fragile and vulnerable structure into a robust and resilient one. This is, from my understanding, an aim of mental health treatment. “Life,” some say, “is less about what happens and more about how you respond to it.”
Homes and people are both subjected to external forces beyond their control. A home is subjected to wind, rain, earthquake, rates rises, electrical rate rises, and burglary. A person is subject to the pressures of social situations, financial stress, mood swings, rugby results, unexpected repair bills, family pressures, and the weather. In both cases, steps can be taken to build resiliency.
With the help of Building Control, we have made our home more resilient to wind, rain, and earthquake by following the New Zealand Building Code. We have made it resilient to rising electrical rates by investing in energy efficiency and solar energy. We have made it resilient to burglary by installing a home security system, but there is not much we can do about rates rises, which, along with electricity rates, outpace wage rises.
In the process of making our home more resilient, I have also improved my mental health. Like some other people, the sources of stress in my life are worries about: increasing energy and food prices, environmental degradation, financial uncertainty, Richie McCaw’s ankle, and social inequity. Through the process of renovating and living in our old villa and planting gardens, I have been able to address my concerns about rising energy and food prices, and in the process, financial uncertainty – to a certain extent. I also feel that I am doing my part to help the environment and to help low-income families and pensioners learn about easy, low-cost / high performance energy saving strategies.
A resilient home helps cultivate a resilient mind. In other words, I am more at ease because my home can better resist rising food and energy prices, and increasing severe weather events. (The conversation in the States right now is about how ‘resilient’ New York City was, is, and will be to extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy.) But I’m afraid Richie’s ankle will continue to linger on my mind.
I believe one of the great strengths of McCaw and the All Blacks is mental toughness. In sport, mental toughness is an expression of mental resilience: overcoming adversity be it injury, penalties, earlier mental mistakes, or the pressure to maintain a winning side.
Sport is often used as a metaphor for life, and now I’m putting forward the idea that making a home is also a metaphor for life. Energy wasting homes put the occupiers at the mercy of power companies while energy efficient homes help the occupiers take control.
The metaphor can be extended to the community level, as our city collectively faces many of the same worries as individuals. If each home in Wanganui saved just $10 per month on their power bill – quite easily accomplished – an additional $2 million dollars would be retained in our community each year rather than being sent to power companies in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. Additionally, warm, dry, low-energy homes have health benefits that would improve certain respiratory illnesses. And, as indicated by the positive feedback I received from the members of Balance Whanganui, I believe many residents would feel empowered by gaining a certain level of control over their power bill.
With all of this in mind, it only increases my sense of bewilderment as to why the Wanganui District Council would turn down an application to Community Contracts to bring home energy saving education to every suburb in the city. The application had the support of six community groups, but was turned down as the idea of providing easy to understand, practical advice and education to residents was not well aligned with the 10-year plan. With power bills tracking toward doubling in the next ten years, I wonder why it’s not.