Green Homes: Is Big Actually Better?

Creating a true energy-efficient tech home requires energy management, home control, lighting control, and other systems usually found in larger homes and that add up quickly.


The Green Life Smart Life home in Rhode Island

Last year in the “Green” issue of Electronic House (our 2010 Green issue is out this month) we asked a question: Can a large home, say of 8,000 square feet or so, really be green?

Most homeowners thought it could be—or at least greener than a comparable sized home replete of solar panels, efficient electronics, and green building materials and furnishings. Environmental types, naturally, were more skeptical, a common response being “Are you kidding? A home that size can’t possibly be green!”

The environmentalists have a point, because if you really commit to being energy-efficient and green, your home should have a minimal footprint, both in its energy use and the amount of space it takes up. Green building advocates generally concur. The U.S. Green Building Council, which operates the popular LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes program, penalizes homes for their size, making it more difficult for larger homes to attain higher LEED certifications. The penalties make sense, because even if an 8,000-square-foot home produces all of its own energy, the resources that have been used in its construction is much greater than a home half its size, and greater still of homes smaller than that.

I have regularly lamented that here at Electronic House, the green high-tech homes we consider for publication are typically of the large variety. And they’re typically quite expensive. Boy, would I like to see a 3,000-square-foot home with solar panels that produces all of the home’s energy and a really cool energy monitoring and energy management system that’s tied to a home control and lighting control system. Yippee!

But that isn’t likely to happen. Why? Because we’re really just at those first, tentative steps in a high-tech energy-efficient home market. Energy monitors and energy management systems tied to home automation and home control is a new thing. And new technologies typically spend their infancy as expensive add-ons to luxury residences. Remember $15,000 plasma screens?

Home control is just coming out of that only-for-the rich market, thanks to more inexpensive IP (Internet Protocol)-based systems. Good energy monitors no longer need to cost five figures, either. But creating a true energy-efficient tech home requires energy management, home control, lighting control, and other systems that add up quickly. Homeowners on budgets can implement some of this cool stuff, but it is still largely the province of those with deeper pockets.

And that’s OK, because big-ass homes can show how being green and energy-efficient doesn’t require sacrificing one’s lifestyle. You can still have the big-screen TV and the home theater and the whole-house audio/video system and all the latest and greatest gizmos and still be energy-efficient and green—or at least greener.

Do I still wish to see smaller, high-tech green homes? Absolutely, for the primary reason of showing owners of smaller homes the possibilities. But I can live with the Big-Ass Green? At least for a little while longer.


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