The topic pops up every month or two.  Last month, the issue of big green homes came up in the context of eco-terrorism.  Five luxury homes priced over $2 million each were set on fire with a sign left behind saying: "Built green?  Nope Black!  McMansions + RCD’s R Not Green – ELF"# #  The luxury homes were advertised as green, but clearly the eco-terrorists disagreed.#   The burnt homes were about 4200 to 4750 sf in size, which isn’t that bad, when compared to some so-called luxury green homes we’ve seen (this one being 9800 sf).  The incident highlights the tension between big homes and sustainability.   

Today the NY Times resurrects the issue in the context of a new development in Connecticut.  As you can tell from the image above, the homes are built in a style meant to evoke 19th-century English country houses.  I’m not really interested the style, but some people are and I understand that.  The above home is the model home — the first of at least twenty-four, extravagant "green" homes.  It’s 7,000 sf.

Homes in the development start at roughly $3.2 million and will seek LEED for Homes certification.  For an optional $100,000 owners can go with the geothermal, but otherwise, the residences will reduce heating and cooling costs by about 50-75%.  They’ll also use FSC-certified lumbers, low-VOC paints and carpets, high-R insulation, high-performance windows, multi-zone hydro-air HVAC systems, custom LED lighting, and Energy Star appliances.#  These are good things — positive steps in the right direction. 

But there is an issue with size.  What about the size?

I’d venture to say we’re all in agreement that these homes are better than nothing.  Some greener action is better than no greener action, right?  But footprint is a subset of green.  Accordingly, does the square footage of a property, no matter what its other achievements, disqualify it for the title of "green"? 

Think of all the materials that went into this 7,000 sf home.  The wood may be FSC-certified, but it’s a ton of wood.  The energy requirements might be minimized, but the home’s still about as demanding as the average sized American home, if not more demanding.  The water requirements might be diminished, but there’s still going to be a lot of water required.

But still, I don’t really have an answer for whether a large home can be green.  Who determines what the definition of green is anyway?  Society?  LEED?  Someone else?  It’d be nice to have some sort of demarcation.  Like say, anything over 3000 sf is not green, unless it’s used for a family of 10, or something like that.  We have to look at the activity within the structure, not just the structure, but really, how green can a big home can be?  Or stated otherwise, how big can a green home be?  And if these homes aren’t green, then what do we call them? 

Just a lot of random thoughts on this end.  What do you think? 

UPDATE: Not to be outdone, there’s a guy in Florida that’s building a 12,000 sf "net zero energy home" and he wants to try to get LEED Platinum.  When asked whether it would be greener to build a smaller home, he replied: "[the] house will be made of renewable materials that can be taken down and reused."  I’m just waiting for someone to create an organic pizza buffet and call it healthy.