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The Split in Split-Level


We know divorce can be hard on the kids, substantially lighten the wallet and in general wreak havoc on a family (as if havoc wasn’t the reason for divorces in the first place). Plus, there’s the fighting over the house (see War of the Roses).

Turns out the housing issue means divorce is just as difficult for the environment as the psyche. Jianguo "Jack" Liu and Eunice Yu (no word on if they’re married or not) at Michigan State University studied the relationship between divorce and the environment and noticed that the more parents live separately, the more households with fewer inhabitants are created. The more households, the more use of water, energy, construction materials, cars…you get the picture. If suburban sprawl was birthed by the ideal of the single-family home, as opposed to the olden days, when homes were multi-generational, it could worsen by as much as 50 percent, should couples continue divorcing at the current rate.

The study, which covered 12 countries, was packed with horrifying facts: divorced households consume 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity; 627 billion gallons of water; create 38 million additional rooms that must be heated, cooled and lit. In these households, each person has 33 to 95 percent more rooms than in married households.

So what’s the solution, since most of us eschew roommates, even post-divorce, and commune living isn’t the preferred option for the average American? Well…they didn’t get that far. The researchers implored policy makers to consider lifestyle changes like divorce when shaping laws and guidelines, but it seems like an area that a smart architect or developer could tackle. How could you design a home or community that would allow divorced parents to live both together and separately, to share resources but maintain an emotional split? Seems like a potential goldmine, at least for the folks with cash.

For the others, there are options like Coabode.com, a kind of matchmaking service for single moms, to help them find housing together, and a number of other shared housing sites. As for the childless, their best bet to be kind to the environment is to remarry as quick as possible. The study found that when they did so, their environmental footprint almost immediately shrunk back down.