Mother Earth Living

Bigger Homes Not Always Greener

As green as a home can be, it's size can diminish its environmentally conscious purpose.
By Natural Home Staff
January/February 2002
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On August 30, 2001, The New York Times ran an article, “Muscle Houses Trying to Live Lean,” about huge homes that are being built with eco-friendly materials. “As trend-conscious architects and their clients start to think green, dedicated environmentalists are left to ponder the pros and cons of the 5,000-square-foot-plus home with a conservation agenda,” states the article’s author, Julie V. Iovine. “These jolly green giants are live-in contradictions, touting the latest energy efficient accessories like photovoltaic roof tiles while admitting indulgences like climate-controlled wine cellars and motorcade-size garages.” The article goes on to ask, “Who’s to dictate what the right shade of green is? One or two green-tinged measures make most homeowners feel as if they’re doing their part.”

The article prompted a grand electronic debate within the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology’s Greenbuilding discussion group. We’ve excerpted some of the more thought-provoking comments below.

“To the extent that the publication of a story on 12,000-square-foot ‘green’ homes reinforces the image in people’s minds that ‘green’ is only for wealthy folks, I firmly believe that such architecture does more harm than good. To the extent that such oversized trophy homes legitimize material and energy profligacy, either by making a 3,000 square-foot-home seem reasonable by comparison, or because some may come to believe that as long as someone certifies this project as ‘green,’ size doesn’t matter, such building does more harm than good.”

“Since time immemorial societies have emulated their wealthiest members. Kings and big businessmen have set trends in fashion, vacation destinations, popular music and art, and, of course, architecture, to name just a few things. So instead of bemoaning the fact that the super-rich want to build green attributes into homes that are too big to be considered eco-friendly, we can celebrate the fact that they are getting interested in green building. These folks will help make green building desirable to everyone else.’’

“We waste our time when we deride those who are having some success greening up instead of those who are either making no progress or moving entirely in the wrong direction. The direction is much more important than the details.”

“The folks with millions will not build a 2,000-square-foot house. Since they are going to build a 12,000-square-foot house anyway, wouldn’t it be better to incorporate some green thinking than not? Really, a 12,000-square-foot eco-‘friendly’ house is probably less eco-friendly than a 2,000-square-foot conventional house. But a 12,000-square-foot green home is a heck of a lot better than a 12,000-square foot non-green home. A step in the right direction is just that.”

“If I recall correctly, thirty years ago, the average new single-family house in the U.S. was 1,400 square feet, and I just read that last year the average new home size was 2,300 square feet, despite the fact that we have smaller families. And the push for bigger McMansions seems to be continuing. It may not be the handful of mansions...it may be the hundreds of thousands...millions...of them!”

“Will Bruder says adding green features like geothermal heating and solar panels to mongo homes with five-car garages is merely a way `to rationalize decadent expenditures. AMEN!”


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