30 years ago, the Macintosh computer was launched into the world during a Super Bowl commercial. Since then, the Mac and all computers have become smaller, more efficient, more powerful and far less costly.
30 years ago, the International Builders Show introduced The New American Home. It was 1500 square feet, had advanced framing, water saving appliances and a heat pump. It sold for under $ 100,000. Since then, the New American Home has become more bloated, less efficient and insanely more expensive and out of touch with the bulk of American citizenry.
This is sustainable?But hey, The 2014 New American Home is touted as "the greenest New American Home in history."
And indeed, it is going for every kind of green certification, from NBGS Emerald to LEED Platinum. It's a polyurethane palace:
To keep occupants comfortable during Nevada’s blazing afternoons and cool nights, the project team is relying on the most effective type of air sealant on the market: spray polyurethane foam, which can provide an R-value per inch up to 6.5. With foamed-in-place insulation, the material fills wall and ceiling cavities completely.
It has R-38 walls and checks in at 2.7 air changes per hour @ 50 PA, which is hardly Passivhaus (0.6 ACH) quality and is barely better than code standard where I live (3.1 ACH) . But It has 16 KW of photovoltaics on the roof that meet 83% of the home's energy needs. It has four tankless gas fired hot water heaters. It is "expected to consume 78 percent less energy than a code minimum home." They say that all of the lighting is LED or CFL, but that dining room fixture is most definitely a whole pile of retro incandescents.
How to justify a monster home: Area/BedsSure, it's 6700 square feet, but the architect, Jeff Berkus says that the house has a plan that "graciously accommodates multiple generations." Given the downstairs master suite, the second upstairs master suite, the "carriage suite", the house has eight sleeping areas that can accommodate twelve, and that's only 580 square feet per person. We are going to be hearing that justification often from now on, it's good.
Kitchen islands have become archipelegos
I used to complain that kitchen islands had got so big that they had turned into continents, but now they have turned into archipelagos, with two islands the size of Manhattan. The reason:
In a nod to the growing trend of online learning platforms and home schooling, the house will accommodate distance learning. A double island in the kitchen offers space to cook on one side and an informal area on the other so that kids can work on schoolwork while still interacting with the family and being a part of the home’s social sphere.
I would have thought that most kids want to do their distance learning in the privacy of their bedrooms instead of the middle of everything, but perhaps I am out of touch, and perhaps that island is big enough to support an entire classroom.
Beige is the new Beige
When President Obama's boring beige redesign of the Oval Office was unveiled, one wag called it "The Audacity of Taupe." However it seems he was onto something, the return of beige.
A big design story in this year’s home is its “new neutral” color palette, says Thee, describing the soft palette as mimicking the hues found in menswear fashion. Some of the colors to look for include are called graphite, palomino, and shrimp. “We’re going to incorporate very organic moments with very glamorous moments,” he [Designer Thee] says.
But come on, LEED Platinum?
I am not going to repeat all the arguments I made about a similar house last year, where I hoped that " the New American Home would be designed for a New American Way of Living, in tight, efficient, affordable houses in walkable communities. Clearly, I was hoping for too much." Kaid Benfield at NRDC picked up the bat and did a better job, complaining about the ludicrousness of giving this the highest green rating LEED gives. He actually liked the house, but wrote:
But, come on, platinum?... Why should a building be considered green if its location is brown? Or, at the very least, why should a building qualify for the highest, platinum rating – signifying the greenest of all green buildings – if it is completely dependent on long automobile trips that will collectively emit more carbon than the building’s efficient heating and cooling systems will save? Maybe ten years ago, the green building movement was so new that it would have been counterproductive to have high standards. But we should be better than that now.
I am going to address another question:
Is it "the greenest New American Home in history"?
I am rather fond of that 1984 New American Home. Sure, the drapes and upholstery are a bit dated, but l love that lighting detail on that column and that kitchen island is a working island.
A Simple Plan
That is a really simple, straightforward plan. It's a box, so it is easy to seal up tight and minimizes surface area. It has a nice Postmodern vibe. It doesn't take an extended family and staff just to operate it. The embodied energy of this home, the maintenance costs, the simplicity of its systems and the modesty of its ambitions make it a far greener home than any other they have built. There is a lot to learn from this house. (2007 is a close second, on an urban infill lot)
This is "Best Practices?"The point of the New American Home is to demonstrate "best practices"-
...concepts, materials, designs and construction techniques that can be replicated – in whole or in part – in housing built any place and in any price range....Its mission is to show that housing performance can be incorporated into the most simple or most complex homes, and that it’s equally as important as aesthetics.
Wouldn't it be nice if Best Practices included appropriate scale, walkable location, lower embodied energy and a ban on beige. More at the New American Home