Daily Archives: October 1, 2009

Does “big green” = “good green”?

It’s nice to see that our society has made such a point in being as green as possible, but does the quantity of green diminish the quality of green?  My friend at Why Architects Drink came across this article about a green 7,200 square foot house.  So is there any such thing as a green 7,200 square foot house built for four people?

Think of it this way – a healthy breakfast is considered to be one that is well-balanced, healthy, and provides sufficient nourishment.  For example, a breakfast consisting of a glass of orange juice, two eggs, a cup of yogurt with a half a cup of fresh blueberries, two slices of toast, and a multi-vitamin would contain most of the attributes of a good and healthy breakfast.  Now would you consider a breakfast to be healthy if it consisted of a gallon of orange juice, half a dozen eggs, a pint of yogurt with three cups of blueberries, seven slices of toast, and four multi-vitamins?  Welcome to the gluttony of “green” architecture.

Within the LEED for Homes Rating System (Section 1, page xv to be exact) a project can actually reduce the amount of points needed to attain a particular certification level by having a smaller home based on what is considered to be the “neutral” (which is 900 square feet for a one bedroom home, 1,400 square feet for a two bedroom, 1,900 square feet for a three bedroom, 2,600 square feet for a four bedroom, and 2,850 square feet for a five bedroom).  Of course if your home has an area greater than the neutral level then the number of points needed to attain a particular certification level would be increased.

The LEED Rating Systems were created to essentially provide a level playing field for comparing one “green” project with another in a fair and balanced manner.  Before LEED most buildings would be touted as green for merely having bamboo flooring, or a low-flow shower head, or kitchen cabinets made from straw, or using recycled building materials.  The LEED Rating Systems provide a holistic view of the necessary parts for creating a truly sustainable building.

Can a house that’s over 7,000 square feet really be green?  Sure, but that’s not to say a house that size is any more green than a 2,000 square foot house that wasn’t even trying to be built using sustainable practices.  Having over 7,000 square feet of bamboo flooring doesn’t make your house that much more green, nor does having seven low-flow toilets.  The basic question needing to be asked before designing a house is how much space is really necessary for one, two, or even four people?

The owners of the house from the aforementioned article tore down a 1,900 square foot home, which enabled them to construct the 7,200 square foot house.  I have no problem with people scraping off their previous homes and building another that is more suited to their lifestyles, but to even hint that this architectural bulimia creates a more sustainable place is not entirely truthful.  Quality green beats quantity green every single time, unless of course you enjoy drinking a gallon of orange juice with your breakfast every morning.