Can Mega-Mansions Still be Green?

As you might recall, the Homebuilder’s show in Las Vegas this year featured a smaller house. I can’t recall the square footage, but it was smaller than the average square foot home being built today, but bigger than our Little House <g>.

Here’s a story of a Las Vegas builder selling homes with an average of 6,500 square feet.  He has also built a 9,000 square foot home in Nevada that has a Net Zero carbon imprint and also returns energy through solar panels to Nevada’s energy grid.

What say you, readers? Can big homes really be green?

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16 Responses

  1. shunka says:

    Howdy – couldn’t help it, have to offer my two cents worth.

    >Mike Reynolds – He is an archi­tect who lives in
    >New Mexico and prac­tices “Earthship Biotecture”.
    >Reynolds claims that his build­ings can oper­ate >off the elec­tric­ity grid, requir­ing lit­tle or
    >no mort­gage pay­ment and no util­ity bills.

    Mike is a self-styled architect. He is not a builder, not an engineer. Frank Loyd Wright was also an architect, who designed beautiful impractical buildings that either couldn’t be built, or had to have constant (ie weekly or monthly) maintenance to stay up (a dark little secret that few mention)

    Ok you first need to go out and visit the “earthship” websites. They fill you in on details but are clearly pushing their own agenda. Then go out to N.M. and see them.

    The earthships are located in the middle of barren dessert that nobody else wants. Not even the Native Americans -they were smart enough to stay near the water and shade!

    Earthship Houses have no water except what they haul in or the little rain they catch. That’s why they have “no water in or out” – they must save any and all sewage! typically they use composting toilets, (no matter what they say, they are not nice and they do stink – been there, done that) so “used water” is “grey water” and used for plants.

    They are off-grid because they are 10 miles from the nearest powerline. Cost to bring in power starts at $10,000 per mile and goes up. They typically use solar, wind, and generators – they just don’t tell you about the generators. Typical cost of Solar Array is $20,000 to $30,000 and up but that only supplies lights and electronics, not enough to power the major appliances we are used to, especially not enough to run an 18 cu foot refridgerator *and* a 15-20 cu ft freezer. And you will need both, because you are 45 miles from town. these houses run from 1500 to 6000 square feet, and work because they have 3-5 foot thick dirt walls and only south-facing windows, so it is like living in a cave with little airflow.
    Oh yes, and they have virtually no storage space, no basement, garage, etc…

    How he claims they are self-sufficient is beyond me because if they supplement their passive solar heat with burning wood (nobody told you that part of NM is suffering from below zero and blizzards right now, did they?) there are no trees to cut within 50 miles! and their little “internal” gardens are not enough to feed 1 person, and few of us who have to chop wood and haul water can survive on a completely vegetarian diet anyway.
    If you choose to hunt for meat, there is no game in that desert – only horny toads and snakes and scorpions and dessert mice.

    The construction itself is well, different. He uses discarded tires pinned together with rebar and filled with dirt for the walls. He is basically building a “dirt house”. If it ever rained for 3 days in a row and the exterior is compromised the house would wash away. Reynolds claims it is innovative and cutting edge, but you will only find it in this remote area of NM because there are no codes to stop him.

    They are all Mortgage-free because nobody is crazy enough to put out a loan on a place like this. They have VERY limited resale value, only within a small community of what seems to me to be “earthship fanatics”.

    I submit that stabalized adobe brick is far superior, but Reynolds is on some kind of trip that he has to reuse tires somehow. A better use is to grind em up and add to new rubber mix!

    His 6000 gallons of water is probably his water storage cistern – very common out here, in AZ, TX, and any arid ranch country. In normal usage, a family of 4 uses 12,000 gallons, so his 6000 gallon tank has to be refilled twice a month by a
    water truck. BTW they need to haul water because you can drill 4000 feet down and still not hit water (another reason most locals don’t want the land).

    There is a small community of these things out here in the dessert, no where else (and for good reason) and you will find that the folks there are kind of a modern hippy (no offense) but I for one like to wash my clothes every week in a washing machine, not once a month in a washtub.

    For a modern green home I would submit:
    http://www.crestonesolarschool.com/index.html
    This guy actually knows what he is doing :
    Paul Shippee is director of Colorado Sunworks and is a solar designer and builder. He was the founding President of the Colorado Solar Energy Association, and a teacher. Paul holds a degree in Civil Engineering, with a major in Structural Engineering from the University of Connecticut. He helped plan housing experiments in energy conservation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and designed the best-rated energy conservation home in a HUD-sponsored study. He holds a U.S. patent on a solar water heating system. Paul is currently building a rammed-earth/strawbale home that he has designed as a personal residence in Colorado.

  2. Sandra says:

    Okay I have a question. Our president is pushing the building of elelctric cars.A few yrs. back we supposedly had a shortage of electric grids. Remember California. Well after they raised the rates sky high the shortage dissappeared. Well who is going to build all the grids to charge the cars and how much will it cost you to plug in?Oh yeah has anyone priced what the cost of the battery is to replace in a Toyota Hybrid or Honda. All that gas money you save just went out the window.

    I could easily live off grid with no solar. I backpack camp all the time. I dream of living off the grid. My cabin will have a wood cook stove.

    Last yr. my propane gas company wanted 1800.00 to fill a 400 gallon tank. I told them to keep the gas. we used our wood stove fireplace insert. Sure you had to get up at night when you went to the bathroom and stuff more wood in it. But my total heating cost was $400.00 for the whole winter! This yr. gas company came down to $500.00 and I purchased gas. I think they learned their lesson their lot is full of returned tanks.

    This is the real clincher. I have lived here 16 yrs. My electric bill was no more than $50.00 per month without a/c. Then we had a tree get struck my lightning. Tree blew out of the ground fell on electric wires and the meter exploded off side of the house. Electric company replaced it with a new one. Ever since my electric bill has never been under a $100.00. You have no control over these bills.

    Our utility companies got stimulus money. Well electric company in Knoxville is replacing meters so they can read the meters from the office. Guess all the meter readers are getting laid off. That really stimulated jobs didn’t it.

    • We’ve saved money on our electricity too by heating these past two winters with our woodburning stove. It has been a real Godsend for us having all of this wood, given our financial downsizing due to layoffs. My in-laws heat with propane and I know have had a hard time with the prices as well.

  3. Mo says:

    Unfortunately “Green” has become political and divisive. A few years back ELF (Earth Liberation Front) burned down several Luxury “Green” homes in our area and left banners that said something like “you say green, we say black.”

    The designs were innovative but too big to fit within the definition ELF assigns as ecologically friendly – which I suspect would probably applies everything except Tepees.

    Any steps toward sustainable living and less consumption are a positive in my view. I even believe that most of us would agree that living more softly upon the planet as a virtue. It’s too bad some feel the need to impose their will on everyone else and get everyone there at the same speed. Human nature perhaps, but not reality.

    Being an optimist I see “Green McMansions” in a glass half full perspective. They **can** house more people with less impact on the environment than a cluster of little houses. In this recession/depression reality I’m seeing a lot more three generation families living together our of economic necessity. These “luxury” homes generate a lot more of tax revenue and jobs than the little houses too. Our State is highly dependent on property taxes and by far the largest chunk of that revenue comes from homes valued over $500,000.

    I prefer living in a world that I can choose my own path and accept that others may choose another. I suspect we’ll get “green” quicker that way.

    • Good points, MO. Thanks for that thoughtful perspective. You’re right, it all comes down to individual choices. The only thing I have issue with is that these mansions take up a lot of space. While it still may be plentiful in some areas of the country, I wonder what happens when the day comes that all that space is gone. I think in the same terms of population growth as well. However, I guess that’s for future generations to solve.

      • Mo says:

        I don’t think sprawl is a problem not unique to McMansions. Not enough of us can afford them…

        A town (a city now) I used to live in was flooded with ‘first time buyer’ level homes built on what was previously farm land. The town annexed them, business followed and then “high density” housing was encouraged to counter the sprawl. It overwhelmed the system (water moratorium), traffic became a nightmare, crime skyrocketed taxes and fees tripled in five years…

        I don’t know what the solution is, both ways seem to have a lot of downside.

        • Sounds like where we grew up, Mo. Our township would have been a lot better off not being annexed by the city. There’s still some die-hard people there who believe they can take it back from the city, but you know the city will never let it go now.
          Hard problems, no easy solutions.

  4. Alexandra says:

    The answer is simple in my part of the country: NO. Part of the concept of being green is an economy of space, in my opinion. A real estate agent and her husband, who works for Mobil, are having a “green” house built up on a hill where they cleared forest to have a view. The house is going to be a mansion and will need heat, even if well insulated. Do two people really need that many rooms? I think not.

  5. Susan says:

    Well I guess if you have the bucks you can do pretty much anything…My son who is up in MT, is a chef at a private resort called Yellowstone Club. And one of the memebers is Bill Gates. Guess he is suppose to be very much into being green. He has a heated driveway that is powered by solar.

  6. Hi! P. Allen Smith, author and gardener from Little Rock has his show every Saturday on PBS. He is still building a large house. He has shown step by step everything he can use “green” inside and out. It has been very interesting. It wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t have a book on all his projects when he is done.

  7. I hadn’t hear of him, Olivia, but thanks for the info! Very impressive indeed.

  8. Olivia says:

    Have you ever heard of Mike Reynolds? He is an architect who lives in New Mexico and practices “Earthship Biotecture”. Reynolds claims that his buildings can operate off the electricity grid, requiring little or no mortgage payment and no utility bills.

    From Wikipedia:”Reynolds describes one of his new homes, called the Phoenix: “There’s nothing coming into this house, no power lines, no gas lines, no sewage lines coming out, no water lines coming in, no energy being used … We’re sitting on 6,000 gallons of water, growing food, sewage internalized, 70 degrees year-round … What these kind of houses are doing is taking every aspect of your life and putting it into your own hands … A family of four could totally survive here without having to go to the store.” There is a documentary about him called “Garbage Warrior,” that I watched recently. I don’t know how large his homes are but I was blown away by what he does.