When we chose to run the case study of Windermere on the Lake, a beautiful development of English country-style estate homes in Stamford, Conn., in our January/February issue, it sparked an internal discussion among our editorial staff: “Can large homes be green?” It’s a question that also is echoing throughout the green building community and in cities and towns across the country.
We think the answer is “Yes, if it goes far enough in sustainable features and performance to make up for its size.” For example, Windermere is one of the first luxury home projects to achieve LEED certification, and the development includes an impressive Habitat Management Plan and a commitment by the developer that convinced us this project was worthy, despite its size and cost.
The argument against size is of course centered on the resources consumed to build larger homes and the energy required to operate them, which are absolutely valid, indisputable points. It’s also valid to ask how much space a family really needs, and how size fits into community zoning and density plans where larger and larger homes can change the character of neighborhoods as they replace the original size and pattern of development.
But we don’t live by absolutes. No matter what each of us thinks is the right answer, we work in the land of choice and opportunity. America is a nation of diverse tastes. While we can try to educate home buyers on the cost savings and environmental benefits of building and residing in more reasonably sized homes, we’re not going to convince everyone to change their entire belief system nor to abandon their desire to buy a large house.
There will always be large homes. So let’s make sure they’re even better--maybe the best--homes built. Bigger houses are the projects that first and foremost must be energy efficient, resource efficient, and durable.
It’s also important to remember that custom homes, often large and costly ones, have always been a proving ground for new technologies. Many of the products that start as expensive high-performance options evolve into good economical solutions as they prove themselves, interest grows, and prices drop to where semi-custom and production builders start specifying them. Solar panels, tankless hot water heaters, and ultra-high-performance windows all were prevalent in custom homes long before they started showing up in subdivisions.
One of the missions we set when we started EcoHome was to showcase the various shades of green: modern and traditional; custom and affordable; single-family and multifamily; and, yes, large and small. Our industry is going to look a lot different when it emerges from the downturn, and it’s likely our homes will decrease in size. But for now we think that large homes can and should be designed and built to perform at the top--and in this way can better serve the custom market and the people who want and can afford larger places to live.
What do you think? Take our one-question survey. Also, join the conversation in the comments section below or drop me an email. We’ll analyze the responses and follow up with a summary of opinions in a later article.