The big environmental story on AlterNet today is "Big Houses Are Not Green: America's McMansion Problem." What a shock!
In Los Gatos, Calif., controversy has raged this summer over the city planning commission’s approval of a proposed hillside home that will occupy a whopping 3,600 square feet – and that's just the basement. Atop that walkout basement will be 5,500 more square feet worth of house. The prospective owner says he’ll build to "green" standards, but at the Aug. 8 meeting where the permit was approved, the city's lone dissenting planning commissioner stated the obvious when he told the owner, "You have a 9,000-square-foot house with a three-car garage and a pool. I don't see that as green."I love that quote. The sad part is that no one else agreed with him.
The article goes on to cite statistics about how 42% of new homes are 2400 square feet or larger, and then it details the cost of raw materials (lots of wood!) and energy. Builders highlight "green" features, but the most obvious seems to elude them: build a smaller freaking house! A study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology in 2005 says, "A 1,500-square-foot house with mediocre energy-performance standards will use far less energy for heating and cooling than a 3,000-square-foot house of comparable geometry with much better energy detailing" (the article notes that the "geometry" of most new homes is woefully inefficient for the sake of looking interesting).
Unfortunately, the American mindset is to get the biggest thing one can afford, be it a house, a car, or a television. Until that changes, we are going to be the energy-hogging bastards of the world.