When it Comes to Green Building, Does Size Matter?

green monster home photo

"One of the greenest homes ever built"

A while back I wrote in Can a Big House in the Country Be Green? "we need affordable green design..... and the methods, materials and technologies will result in houses that are a lot smaller, cheaper and closer together. I hope that we will show more of the latter and fewer of the former."

We had pretty much concluded that big can't be green, but over at Green Building Advisors, the debate continues.

headshots of green building kim calomino michael horowitz photo

Kim Calomino of Built Green Colorado debates Michael Horowitz of Vermont Builds Greener.

Kim Calomino says Size doesn't matter; Philosophical purity isn't always practical in the marketplace.

"When I hear the question, "Can large homes be green?," I think the questioner is really asking, "Is it right for some people use more resources — live in big homes — when they could live in smaller homes like the rest of us?" That question is not really about green building; it's more about moral or social equity, and I don't think the green building movement should dilute its focus by debating the issue. We need to get ALL buildings as far down the continuum as possible, as quickly as possible, rather than dither over the tiny minority of homes that are large.

Unless the market for large homes just up and disappears, they're going to get built and bought. There might be fewer of them, and they might be smaller, especially in these economic times. And heck, who knows, there might even be a permanent shift occurring right before our eyes. But let's focus on getting those builders and buyers to move along the continuum, not argue about where the line gets drawn on size."

Aqua Linea photo

Who Cares If It Is Green, Is It Ethical?

Michael Horowitz disagrees, saying Size Matters, Larger homes are indulgent, not green.

There is little basis for the claim that it is better to have a large house built with green materials than a small conventionally built home. Energy modeling shows that a 1,500-square-foot home with poor insulation can still use less energy than a house twice its size with good insulation.

Greener materials and improved energy efficiency may lessen the impact of a large home, but those same measures also lessen the impact of an already-low-impact smaller home. However, it is the impact of the occupants, not the house, that really matters. Since small homes recognize nature's limits by using use fewer resources per occupant, they help us approach sustainability — the real green goal.

I happen to agree with Michael, as I noted in previous posts like Can a Big House in the Country Be Green? But have overlooked some interesting projects because of it. We will look at some of them over the next few weeks.

More on Green Monsters:
9 "Green" Monsters: Can a 15,000 SF Mcmansion be Green?

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