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April 22, 2008

Green Giants

Posted: 09:49 AM ET

It is the real estate equivalent of the hybrid Hummer – an 8,000 square foot "eco-mansion." On this Earth Day I thought it would be worth considering the apparent hypocrisy of building a palace with the environment in mind.

It turns out it is not easy being green – especially when you are a giant.

We traveled to ever-so-swell North Stamford, Connecticut to the Windermere on the Lake development. Here they are building a few dozen mega-homes on some beautiful untouched real estate. The parcel was owned by one family for years.

Windermere President Mark Hallet Robbins reminded me "it's particularly hard to deliver a very sustainable, environmentally conscious and economical to operate home at this scale."

But you have to give them points for trying.

The home we toured has geothermal heating and cooling, incredibly tight and efficient insulation... sustainably- harvested lumber...lots of LED and natural light and the home sites are built in clusters- to preserve the woods.

"I think we've pushed the envelope of green pretty far," Robbins told me.

But can a jumbo size envelope like this really lay claim to being green? For that part of the story, I went down to Carrboro, North Carolina (right next to Chapel Hill).

That's where Architect Sophie Piesse designed an exquisite two thousand square foot home near Chapel Hill North Carolina for Jan and David Markiewicz.

Sophie is a big believer in thinking small – but designing smart.

"People spend a lot of money on square footage, and don't spend anything on the quality of the space," she told me.

In fact the Markieiczes moved from a classic McMansion twice as big. (See what goes into living a greener life)

"There were rooms that we never walked into," says Jan.

David told me "it never really felt comfortable in terms of the way in which we really like to live."

But their new house fits them like a well tailored suit. There is a cozy living room right next to the kitchen with a angles peninsula. Right beside it is a banquette where they eat every day – and entertain. Who really needs a formal living room and dining room? The house is just exquisite. The size is "Goldilocks" all the way: just right

The moment we decided to do this story I thought of architect and author Sarah Susanka. I am a member of the Lindbergh Foundation Board of Directors – and last year we gave Sarah an award for her work proselytizing the virtues of "The Not So Big House". The book she first penned with that name ten years ago has morphed into an extremely successful series – a cottage industry (if you will).

When Sarah first came here from Britain she was taken about by the big size of nearly everything – from cars, to drinks, to food portions to homes.

"Right now in almost everything you can look at any part of our society and see excess," she says.

Sarah is not a judgmental person – ( hard as I tried to get her to cast aspersions!). She says "Not so Big" is something that should be left entirely to individuals. But it is clear she would like to see us walk away from building trophy homes.

"We're trying to balance our footprint on the planet," she told me. "We each can make incredible shifts in how we're living to affect that shift."

Sarah hopes over time, people will see the wisdom of building smaller and living smarter. To return to the analogy I used at the outset – perhaps it is time we looked for a home as we shop for a car. And maybe the Prius is all we need. (See how much you know about living green)

But at Windermere – they say the owners of these huge eco-mansions will not owe us – or the planet – any apologies. Still – wouldn't smaller be greener? Mark Robbins begs to differ.

"It's how you build it, it's where the houses are sited and how they operate," he said.

Our homes are our castles – and they are the cornerstone of the American Dream. Now is not the time to stop dreaming big – but maybe it is time to stop building that way simply for the sake of telling the world we have arrived.

–Miles O'Brien, CNN Sr. Environment and Technology Correspondent

Filed under: environment


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B. Radosevich   April 22nd, 2008 10:19 am ET

Mr. O'Brien:

The premise of the article is interesting, but where are the facts? Does the developer have any projected energy costs for heating and cooling? How does it compare to a 2,000 ft^2 inner city or first ring suburban home in terms of efficiency?


Green Diva Meg   April 22nd, 2008 10:40 am ET

Good for the McMansion builders. A step in the right direction, but i am in complete agreement with the architect of the N. Carolina property about a more thoughtful and efficient use of space. I used to own a McMansion and we are now in a wonderful older/renovated home from the 1920s. it is half the size, but 10x the character! I personally think we all just need to re-think how much of EVERYTHING we use or do NOT use, including the space we claim for our homes and how we use or share the property around it. I would love to see more eco-communities being built – more shared space, more community-centered, much more environmentally sound. Great post. thanks.


Can a McMansion Be Green?   April 22nd, 2008 10:45 am ET

[...] CNN.com Tags: geothermal, insulation, led, leds, mcmansion, square [...]


Elsie E Connelly   April 22nd, 2008 10:53 am ET

There is absolutely no way the McMansion can be green enough. I do not know why people would want to try to heat and cool some of these houses. If a person has enough money to buy something that big, why on earth does he/she do charitable works with it. That would be more rewarding, and more helpful to the environment. Al Gore does not need the size of house he has. Oprah does not need 4 homes not when there are lots of folks who can't even afford to have a place to live.


Al   April 22nd, 2008 10:55 am ET

This article was a waste of bytes.


RANDY SCHOLNICK   April 22nd, 2008 10:56 am ET

All homes - from shoeboxes to McMansions - have one thing in common: their greatest use of energy comes from heating and air conditioning. Geothermal is ONE answer to this massive consumption of power, but those systems cost a fortune to install. As an alternative, our company has been utilizing what's known as VRFZ technology. This system incorporates a single heat pump condensing unit that operates at a variable-btu range, thus providing exactly the right amount of heating or cooling to as many as 32 zones. In commercial and residential applications, this technology has been proven to cut energy consumption by 2/3. Unlike traditional heating and air conditioning that operates at full loads and constantly starts and stops, this "smart system" can ramp up and down to quickly, quietly and more efficiently achieve the desired temperatures. It is truly the wave of the future for both residential and commercial applications.


NoRightWingers   April 22nd, 2008 10:57 am ET

There is no such thing as a "green" 8,000 sq. ft. McMansion. That's just hype to make the social climbers who buy these ridiculously out-sized home feel better about themselves. Most of these Goliaths are occupied by four people or less – a number that can comfortably live in less that 3,000 sq. ft. Most typically, all but three or four of the rooms remain empty and unused, since to fully furnish an 8,000 sq. ft. home would cost close to $1M. There is no way to efficiently heat/cool so large a space and the maintenance on such a house uses four times the energy of the smaller house.


rd   April 22nd, 2008 10:58 am ET

To start with, I see a lot of emerald green grass which indicates that there are probably fertilizers and pesticides used along with plenty of water. There is a good chance that it was sodded which means the grass is probably almost entirely Kentucky Bluegrass which is not very drought resistant, so one definition of green will be to allow it go brown in the summer!

The lot is probably quite large which means that it is probably a ways from where they work and shop. That requires a lot of driving unless they bicycle everywhere.

The materials presumably had to be delivered from somewhere so the sheer volume of them would require a lot of trucking fuel and emissions. A smaller house would have required fewer materials, less delivery, and less driving for construction workers.

I presume that they don't have alternate energy sources, so the pumps and lighting will still be on the grid. A smaller house with this technology would use much less power.

So, it is greener than most houses of this scale, but I would still not call it "green" except by Al Gore standards.


Jason-Milwaukee   April 22nd, 2008 10:59 am ET

The green movement is still in it's development stages. Everyone should commit to something green be it a canvas bag or retro fitting your entire mansion. It has to start now.

You've been trashed!!!
http://www.greenbugz.com
Recycling Today For A Greener Tomorrow


Lee   April 22nd, 2008 11:03 am ET

"It's how you build it, it's where the houses are sited and how they operate."

As an architect, I can tell you that this is only a part of the equation. Construction waste makes up more than 60% of the world's landfills. While using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs may be a step in the right direction, don't think for a second that you're saving the planet when you are living in an 8,000 sq ft. home.

So, besides scaling down the size of your house, how do you REALLY build green? The answer: prefabrication. By having your house constructed in a factory, almost all construction waste is eliminated, as most scrap material can be reused either on your house or the next on the assembly line.

Also, prefabrication allows you to build quickly, in most cases only a few months. But most of importantly, prefab design gives you the ability to live in a home designed by a world-renowned architect at a fraction of the cost of a stick-built house.

For more info, check http://www.fabprefab.com


Jerome   April 22nd, 2008 11:11 am ET

Not only is it not possible for such a house to be "green", but who even needs that big of a house? It seems to be for status rather than use... A family of six can comfortably live in a 2000 sq. ft house.


craig   April 22nd, 2008 11:11 am ET

The bigger you are the tougher it is being green. Sure a big house can be designed to use less energy, water, etc. but taking an honest look at all of the resources that went into building it most likely will show a significant detraction from it overall lifetime environmental footprint. That does not mean all houses have to be tiny but homes over 3,000 sq ft and especially the 4,000 and 5,000 + sq ft models are less desirable from an environmental standpoint than a say a 2,500 or less sq ft house no matter how "green" it perceived to be to start with.


Common sense   April 22nd, 2008 11:14 am ET

Who says there cant be a green Mc mansion. The goal is $/sq ft. to heat/cool when it comes down to the bottom line, By zoning heat, Using geo, solar, and insulation like they did, I bet the cost per square foot is better than most homes.

As to the size of the home – It's always to buy a suitable size home, but there are many families that do have children, and do use the room. Market demand will dictate what size of home people want. You cant just throw in the towel because it's a large home. In fact by saving 10% fuel multiplied by hundreds or thousands of large homes will net you quite a large savings pretty quick.


C. M. Hunter   April 22nd, 2008 11:15 am ET

Miles, the expression is "taken aback", not "taken about"


Steve (in Chicago)   April 22nd, 2008 11:22 am ET

WHY give them points for trying?

That's the stupidest comment I've ever heard!

The point should be to get buyers to scale back their excessive ego demands by not catering to their childish gratification. What's next? Sell them a Hummer for every day of the week to go into the new 12-car garage, next to the convertible for nice days, an APC for when the snow flies, two boats (sail & stinkpot)...

No doubt all the buyers there are hedge-fund managers, right? Looking for a place to spend last year's $500M bonus I'm sure.

This foolishness has got to stop somewhere. Give the rest of us a break & please take yourself out of the matrix before the rest of us are priced out of this life! Your body is worth more as fertilizer than it is as a consumer.


ttj   April 22nd, 2008 11:33 am ET

This trend of attempting to make McMansions look "green" is outright annoying. These people don't get it. There is a limited amount of space on this planet and they are hogging more than their fair share. Beyond that, these homes are resource intensive, no matter how you cut it. The owners may feel some kind of economic "right" to build unnecessarily large homes, but you'd think they could find some better, "greener" way to invest their money. Finally, the social exclusivity that these homes represent is just not a "green" concept.


tidho   April 22nd, 2008 11:45 am ET

There's nothing wrong with buying an 8,000sqft house if you can afford it. Its great thet they're at least trying to do the right thing too. If done right its probably more efficiant than a 2000sgft house built in the 40's or 50's.


JustAQuestion   April 22nd, 2008 11:52 am ET

What about overpopulation?


Lydia   April 22nd, 2008 12:20 pm ET

Well, while you are judging... I have a 4,000 square foot "green" home. We use solar power, collect our own rain water, have bamboo and cork floors, use all energy efficient appliances, etc. We don't have a manicured lawn– it's all natural landscaping. For all of you who cast stones, I wonder how many of you can say that you are doing better? Could I have lived in a smaller house, sure. Could you all be using solar and collecting rain water, perhaps. I think I do deserve some points. Cast aspersions if you like. I do want some lifestyle, and I do want to try and minimize my footprint at the same time. I don't pretend to be a saint. I could do better– but just cause you aren't doing the absolute best you can (i.e. beinga hippie) doesn't mean one shouldn't try.


The rich destroy   April 22nd, 2008 12:26 pm ET

It is a FACT that the rich not only destroy that which is around them (land in particular), but impact the people around them as well.

RICH=EXCESS

Our country is all about the $$$$$$

Who cares about the reprecussions???

At least "rd" and "ttj" are a few that understand what is going in our "McMansion" culture. I don't see any end in site. I live outside of Fort Worth where the RICH are gobbling up the land, building SPRAWLING homes that require the most of our resources.

But that is dandy I guess, because Al Gore "The Green Saviour" is just like the rest of these idiots:

"Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES)." – Tennessee Policy for Policy Research

PS- Good luck America!!


Anti-globalism   April 22nd, 2008 12:34 pm ET

What about overpopulation?

The primary cause of environmental damage is our reckless growth.

For more info, check http://www.corrupt.org/


jeff   April 22nd, 2008 1:19 pm ET

The energy consumption doesn't seem to be the real problem. Nor does the size of "McMansions". It seems the "entitlement program" that is pervasive in American society is once again bearing its teeth. Its not that we are consuming resources well beyond our "real" needs, its that we feel we have the right to.


practicalitarian   April 22nd, 2008 1:41 pm ET

Big houses make a statement, and it is fair to say that some of the most elegant and awe-inspiring buildings in the world were the direct result of some affluent person's desire to design his living space as the biggest, boldest expression of egomaniacal self-indulgence one could imagine.

That said, the notion that one should get "points" toward living an environmentally sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle just because one builds his own personal Neuschwanstein with green materials misses the point completely.


Ian M Gumby   April 22nd, 2008 2:01 pm ET

Can a McMansion be green?

Sure it can.

If you determine your needs and you design the house properly, then even a mansion can be green. Consider that if you had a home office and you didn't have to drive to work each day, or take the train, or a combination, look at how much energy you've saved.

If your office is large enough to share with another person, then you could have a co-worker working remotely with you instead of getting a meeting room at your office downtown.

That extra wing could be used to house the mother in law when she can't live alone.


Why???   April 22nd, 2008 2:23 pm ET

Why do we keep building any houses at all while we're reaping what we sowed by overdeveloping and building 500K houses normal people can't really afford?

I can guarantee you that in both of the towns mentioned there are literally dozens if not hundreds of great older homes sitting for sale. Why keep destroying woods and farmland?


Patrick   April 22nd, 2008 3:07 pm ET

As "rd" said above, a house of that size is inherently incompatible with a neighborhood that supports transit and allows for walking to shopping or jobs. As such the house will require more energy use than an "ungreen" house in a dense, walkable, bikeable, transit-supportive neighborhood.

The most important decision to make a house, business, or office "green" is where it is located. A "green" building that is not easily accessible via walking or transit is inherently not green. For more information on the effect of density on energy consumption see:

http://blog.smartgrowthamerica.org/?cat=22
http://smartgrowthamerica.org/gcindex.html
http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm?fileName=160901a.xml


Tom Arny   April 22nd, 2008 3:38 pm ET

Being green also means leaving some room in he environment for plants and animals. An 8000 sq foot house fails that test totally.


Zalad   April 22nd, 2008 4:01 pm ET

I live in a 2800 sq. ft. home. It's 30 years old and well insulated. I have energy efficient appliances and central air/furnace system. I pay around $200 mo for natural gas and $70 for electricty in winter. In summer, I pay $220 for electricity and $60 for gas. My best friend owns one of these so-called "green" McMansions. It's 7900 sq. ft. He, his wife and their one child live there. He has even more efficient appliances and the same model heating/AC unit that I have. Only, I need one zoned system and he needs three systems. His energy costs? WInter: $560 for gas, $250 electricity. Summer: $740 electricity, $150 gas. We use the same utility companies. His "green" McMainsion is about to break him. Most of his house is unused and is closed off. He's decided the house is ridiculously large and there's no way to make it really efficient. Unfortunately, the market was glutted with McMansions before the housing bust, so now he's stuck with this energy hog.


pat   April 22nd, 2008 4:06 pm ET

I don't even have to read the article, the answer is no.


Luke Rademacher   April 22nd, 2008 4:39 pm ET

I cannot fathom any home that is 8000 sq ft being GREEN*. I'd rather see Empty Green space and a few 2000sq ft homes built to better environmental and eco-friendly standards.
Geeze Louise. 8000sq ft! To me thats a total waste. What I'd like is to get some articles on how to make my comfortable 1500sq ft home more eco-friendly. I made the first step yesterday, as I planted 4 trees in my front, side, and back yards. And someday I hope to get some solar panels to the southern face of my house/roof.


Going Green is not just about your aluminum cans … | eMarketSouth Central   April 22nd, 2008 4:42 pm ET

[...] your home.  Maybe we are seeing a slit shift away from the mansions built a few years ago, to the more sensible designs of homes with just the space we really need and nothing more.  Global Green is one organization [...]


Chicagoan   April 22nd, 2008 4:53 pm ET

The square footage of the average American home has increased 140% since 1950. Why is this happening, if average number of persons per household is shrinking? Because Americans want BIG without thinking of the consequences. Meanwhile, the larger footprints of these homes means that rainwater has less land to seep into the earth, causing greater and more frequent flooding.


craig   April 22nd, 2008 5:24 pm ET

April 22nd, 2008 11:45 am ET tidho

There’s nothing wrong with buying an 8,000sqft house if you can afford it. Its great thet they’re at least trying to do the right thing too. If done right its probably more efficiant than a 2000sgft house built in the 40’s or 50’s.

Sure there is something wrong. This is 2008 not the 40's or 50's. What sense does that kind of comparison have to do with this discussion?


Kate Kean   April 22nd, 2008 7:04 pm ET

What the broadcaster failed to mention in this piece is that Windermere is situated on a 75 acre parcel of land, 25 acres of which were donated to the Stamford Land Conservation Trust and will remain as forever-green space. Of the remaining acreage, 24 homes are being sited on half acre lots in clustered neighborhood providing for a significant amount of additional open space. Each house is positioned and constructed to receive maximum sunlight to reduce the cost of electricity and rainwater runoff has been addressed as well. Native species planting has begun and will be overseen by a strict habitat management plan. Groundbreaking technology , such as the geothermal heating/cooling system has always been expensive, and the early adapters generally pave the way for any such advances to trickle down to the point of common use. The cost of running utilities in that particular 8,000 square foot house is approximately $500 a month. Finally ,it is not a McMansion. It is constructed of non-toxic sustainable materials and follows the design aesthetic of the 19th century British Arts & Crafts movement, arguably the first attempt at Green building in history. The point of this story should really have been that a home's footprint measured in square feet is irrelevant if it 's carbon footprint is minimal.


Franko   April 23rd, 2008 5:13 am ET

  
Go all the way and make it pay it's way.
Not just the silly Carbon footprint, but actually generate positive $$$
Build a large greenhouse enclosing a barn for the livestock.
The livestock would not only produce fertilizer, but also heat.
A miniature Garden of Eden inside for the farmer.

Al Gore needs to show us how ?
  


Julia   April 23rd, 2008 7:26 am ET

Livestock contribute more to the greenhouse effect that auto emmissions. If every person concerned about the fragility of our planet stopped eating meat, there would be tremendous progress made toward reducing emisions.


Elizabeth   April 23rd, 2008 8:59 am ET

Green mansions and flying pigs. On another note.......one of the easiest ways for communities to go greener is to forego the lighting of athletic stadiums and fields (play by day) as well as eliminate transporting athletes on diesel busses beyond only the closest neighboring schools. Our nation's addiction to sports (on every level, especially professional) is very "not green." Yes, traditional "Friday Night Lights" sounds nutty when we are also asked to go green and change light bulbs in our homes, with mercury containing bulbs at that. In regard to home lighting, it is better to get used to dimmer lights for night and skip daytime lighting altogether. Hey, do green mcmansions have clothes lines in the yard?????????? Will the green owners diaper their babies with plastic or cloth????????? Oh, do green mcmasions have built-in solar ovens with an access door through the wall???????? Is there be an emphasis on using manual push mowers on the lawns as well having a dedicated space for a vegetable garden??????????? Bet not.


Franko   April 23rd, 2008 6:43 pm ET

 
"fragility of our planet" is an illusion

Instead of hiding behind Mother Nature's skirt, let us do the Gaia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

CO2 and CH4 from cows will not stop the Ice Age from coming.
However, we can change the Albedo in the North
http://profhorn.meteor.wisc.edu/wxwise/AckermanKnox/chap2/Albedo.html

The Coolies could go to Antarctica, taking the Polar Bears with them.
Warmies could farm in Siberia, Greenland, Alaska, and Northern Canada.
..
One happy Spaceship Earth !


gaprimm   April 24th, 2008 6:10 pm ET

I think it's fine for someone to build a large home that is "green". Most likely, the family would have built a home that large no matter what. So, I'd rather see an energy efficient large home than one that is inefficient. My home would be considered larger than most, yet it is more energy efficient than my previous home that was one-third smaller.

The good news is that homeowners are starting to take action. The hardest thing about making changes is just taking the first few steps. I read about so many people who have an all-or-nothing attitude about living "green". There are many shades of green. I'm just glad people are starting to take steps in the right direction.

homeenergyliving.com


Laugher   April 26th, 2008 2:22 pm ET

Big houses....sounds like some jealousy....

The biggest problem in America today is that we're protected from the true cost of everything. Nobody knows how much some thing cost any more – there's the price you pay and then there's what it actually costs. Every body wants more of some thing and we want a politian or some body else to do what ever is necessary to make it happen for us.

Americans don't know what these huge houses actually cost. It's not as much as you think – at least in some ways. Yes, more dollars spent, but there is an economy of scale that allows for more efficient use of energy, but it's still more energy per inhabitant.

So with this whole carbon foot print thing....how much do I get to polute and what is the optimal population and when do we start looking for volunteers to help reduce the population....


Steve   April 27th, 2008 11:12 am ET

There are other reasons for larger-than-needed houses. I have my business on the same property with my house, which is surrounded by cornfields, and we home school, hobby farm, and I am teaching my sons my trade as a toolmaker in my machine shop.

The zoning laws here requuire that on A1 (farming+dwelling) zoned properties, the accesory buildings cannot be more square feet than the primary dwelling. So to get the size of shop I need to make a living, we had to build a house that is 50% bigger than what we need.

They except Agriculture from this, so farmers can build as big a barn as they want to, but make no exceptions for any other activity.

Maybe we should look at changing some laws in situations that require people to build bigger-than-needed houses.


dan from upstate ny   April 29th, 2008 4:18 pm ET

Building big and green are contradictions. No one "needs" a big home such as these. It's purely status symbol. Many architects are trying to convince people to build smaller and smarter. Any resonable client understands quality vs. quantity. With gas up to $4 a gallon, any effort you put into reducing the envelope and increasing efficency will pay MAJOR dividends over the life of the home.

Wake up and stop wasting resources to keep up with the Jones'. The Jones' are idiots. Smart people understand not to waste money.

Daniel R. Long, RA NCARB


dan from upstate ny   April 29th, 2008 4:32 pm ET

I've read some of these posts about "economy of scale" and other misconceptions regarding cost and zoning requirements. "I have to have a big house. They are forcing me by zoning to do it." Really? It sounds like there hasn't been enough planning involved. How much space do you really need to live indoors?? Great, it costs you less per square foot to build it, but what's the real final cost?

Build what you need, not what you think you need or what you're idea is of what others think you need. Talk to people who's profession is to understand and deal with these issues every day and be confident that you don't need a 4-day garage, separate dining, living, great room, etc. etc. in your house. Your kids don't need an entertainment suite and separate bathroom for each child.

Humans are the most adaptable species on the planet. Too bad we're also the most spoiled. Time to take a hard look at how we're living.


Franko   May 3rd, 2008 5:27 am ET

  
Big cars, big houses, ocean cruises, flights to space, getting drunk;
Reality hits the fantasy, you run out of resources.

An inconvenience of big houses is that low population density does not allow for conveniences. No subways, local grocery stores.

But then, peole like Al Goracle, are willing to sacrifice conveniences to awoid the inconvenient people. An acceptable way to discriminate.


james butteri   May 8th, 2008 10:18 am ET

cnn journalism is beating the competition-last night chris matthews was discussing the relativity of social science- and global warming in michigan and florida-the usually composed matthews began to blink incessantly and in a progressively proliferating raised voice began to bark like a dog-after receiving a response from his political pundit-we really should think of passing some global warming legislation right away-it is a truly (sorry) situation-jrb


Franko   May 9th, 2008 2:24 am ET

. .
Do you think that CNN has an editorial policy,
Or is exceptional, above reproach, in reporting on the climate


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