Difficult Conversations – Mortgage and Volcanic Ash
The ashfall continues in Barbados from the volcanic eruptions in St Vincent. Therefore, half of this article will conclude my mortgage series, and the other half will include my best advice on the volcanic ash.
If you are being advised to get a 25 to 30-year home-mortgage at this time, then in my opinion, you are being very badly advised.
Many of our parents who paid off their mortgages, got them when land was selling at around $1 to $2 per sq-ft. Now, it is more than 10 times that amount. Construction costs were around $75/sq ft. Now it is about 3 to 4 times that amount.
Middle-income salaries were around $500 per month. Those salaries likely grew ten-fold over their careers. So, they saw the mortgage component of their salaries getting significantly smaller, and much easier to pay during the life of the loan.
Before 1996, mortgages tended to be for only a part of the building costs. Persons normally had to find between 25% to 50% of what they wanted to borrow. This meant that they did not know the uncertainty of a 25 to 30-year debt repayment.
Times have changed. Land prices and construction costs are already very high, and are expected to continue to increase. However, mid-income levels are not expected to increase 10-fold like with your parents. You may be fortunate if they double during your career. It is as if you entered at the losing end of a Ponzi scheme.
Paying a 30-year mortgage for this new generation of working Barbadians, is going to be a very difficult burden for them to bear. Mortgages worked for our parents, because land was cheap, and wages were growing rapidly. This is a different time, and it demands a different house-financing model.
My best advice is for a couple to build a strong and durable starter house in 6 years, as I have described in two previous articles. Now to the volcanic ash fallout in Barbados.
The Soufrière Hills volcano erupted in Montserrat in 1995. It resulted in the destruction of the capital city of Plymouth, and the southern half of the island becoming uninhabitable. I was working on several projects in Plymouth before the eruption, and continued working in Montserrat after the event.
Many house roofs risk collapsing under 4 inches of ash. This can build up if the roof slope is gentle. For that reason, I have been advocating a roof slope of 30 degrees, after inspecting the damage from the volcanic eruption in Montserrat.
An approximate 30-degree roof slope reduces the risk of volcanic ash building up. It also attracts some of the lowest wind pressures during a hurricane. If roof gutter slopes were laid at about 2%, then they may be self cleaning.
Trying to clean roof gutters and roof sheets of a 2-storey house, on a ladder with wet ash, is an extremely dangerous practise. It should only be attempted by those in a hurry to see Jesus. That is why houses should be designed and built to be low maintenance.
If your house has less than a 30-degree roof slope, but was designed to survive a category 3 hurricane, then it may support 4 inches of ash. However, there are too many variables, like the quality of the connections, the condition of the timber, and the length of the span, to be certain. Therefore, let me suggest the following.
ROOF CLEANING ADVICE.
If you have safe access to your roof, then attach a high-pressure telescoping wand to your hose, and remove the ash. If you do not have safe access to your roof, then attach the high-pressure wand to a long telescoping roller pole, and remove the ash.
If one section of your roof has a gentle slope (like a car port lean-to), and it is safely accessible, then you may consider cleaning the roof, and then installing a tarpaulin or a heavy-duty plastic sheet. Whenever the ash builds up, simply remove the tarpaulin, wash off the ash, and reinstall.
Do not stand on your roof, otherwise, the combined weight of the ash and you may cause it to collapse. If some stubborn person decides to walk on your roof to clean it, then get out of the house. If the roof collapses, then occupants are likely to be injured by the falling roof, and choked by the accumulated ash.