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Not your average home improvements

Ben Gilbert Jun 30, 2008

Not your average home improvements

Ben Gilbert Jun 30, 2008


Bob Moon: Your home is your castle, to borrow a phrase, and even if we can’t afford a moat, we all want a home that’s safe and secure.

What’s that mean to you? Maybe an alarm system or extra lock or two?

Now consider the kind of special security features you’d want if you lived in Beirut, Lebanon. We’re talking some armor reinforcements, special windows, emergency fuel… But just think about what that adds to the cost of even a humble home.

Ben Gilbert recently found that out first hand.

Ben Gilbert: Last month, there were violent clashes in my neighborhood in Beirut. Bullets bounced off my balcony, rocket propelled grenades exploded nearby and I found myself crouched in the only windowless room in my apartment, waiting for the next boom.

That’s when I decided it was time to do as the Lebanese and began looking to make a few important purchases.

First is the door. In Beirut, most apartments are decked out with thick steel doors. I asked Bruno Jureidini of the El Seer Steel company to stop by and give me an estimate. He says most steel doors have been there for years, installed during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

Bruno Jureidini: Before everybody have steel doors because everybody was out of Lebanon.

When Lebanese left, the steel doors protected homes against burglars and looters. With tensions increasing with Iran again, I’m worried I may have to leave my home for a bit. Bruno says I can leave the home protected with a steel door for about $1000.

Now to the windows. This is John. He sells plastic sheets of Mylar film. They’re thin and transparent and stick to windows like wallpaper. He advertises Mylar by saying it blocks UV light and “prevents shattering as a result of explosions.”

John: The explosion creates a shockwave which makes your glass fly and it flies like bullets and it can kill you, it can hurt you and it will damage all your furniture and your walls and everything. So when put this film, the glass breaks but doesn’t shatter.

Outside on my balcony, John takes measurements. He says Mylar protection for all my windows will cost about $400 and he gleefully highlights the dangers of my exposed ninth floor apartment:

John: See here, you got a stray bullet. This is another one…

The walls are scarred with mostly old bullet holes and a few new ones from last month. John says he’s seen it all in this neighborhood: artillery barrages, car bombs and street battles. So he stays ready.

John: I belong to a generation where I witnessed the whole civil war, so I got trained on all these things. So whatever I can do in anticipation of, let’s say, another war, I do it.

John points to his apartment building a few blocks a way. He has a solar powered hot water heater on the roof. Years ago, he and his neighbors banded together and bought a $5,000 electricity generator that can power the whole building. It reminds me of American survivalists preparing for the coming collapse of the U.S. government. Except here, that actually did happen about a month ago. The police disappeared, and the army was powerless. So John says the Lebanese prepare for calamity from block to block, building to building.

John: Every building is an entity, is a state, which is autonomous, let’s say, from government, because you have to cater for your electricity, for your water, for your everything. So you get together and say we are going to get together to pay $2,000, $5,000 to do this and that because we want to live.

And so do I. Now that the rival factions have come to an agreement in Lebanon, the country’s mostly peaceful. But still, living here means hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. So, my total tab for a generator, window protection and a steel door: around $2000.

In Beirut, I’m Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.

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