Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Long Green

There was a recent story in the Strib about a local couple and their effort to build a green home:

It started when Melissa and her husband, Jim Schifman, bought a 1950s rambler "as is" on a corner lot across from Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. They had planned to remodel the modest house using green methods and materials, but when they discovered that it would be costly to solve moisture issues in the basement, they decided to start from scratch.

True to their green desires, they hired Deconstruction Services, a nonprofit affiliated with the Green Institute, to remove and recycle the wood flooring, cabinets, appliances, even the toilets. "We struggled with tearing down a home, so we were glad it was recycled," said Melissa.

Then they set their sights on building a sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy home that would lower their energy consumption (and costs) and offer views of the lake.

"We have so many choices when building and remodeling," said Melissa. "Why not be thoughtful and choose products that are better for your health and environment?

But the Schifmans weren't just going to just dabble in green features. They wanted to go for the features that make the most difference: a geothermal heating and cooling system, photovoltaic solar panels and wood harvested from sustainably managed forests. They also wanted the ultimate stamp of environmental approval: LEED certification.

Up to this point, they hadn’t brought up a key element to the story. One that would really let us know how far their “green” commitment really went.

Salmela eventually designed a clean-lined, L-shaped home with a wall of windows facing the lake. The home is in two structures, which total 4,800 square feet: and are connected by a breezeway. The family living spaces are on the main floor and the three bedrooms are upstairs. Melissa requested a home office above the garage so she could be away from distractions. The finished basement has a playroom for the girls and guest bedroom that doubles as an exercise room.

"We were able to design a beautiful house that wasn't just about sustainability and energy efficiency," said Salmela. "It's enjoyable to live in, connects to the site and fits in the neighborhood."

And is plenty big enough for the four members of the family. Now, I have nothing against people building big houses. If you have the money and the land, build it as big as you want. I’m not always sure why some people feel the need to have seven bedrooms and six bathrooms, but hey if that’s what you want go for it.

Likewise, if you want to build a house that’s energy efficient and uses the most sustainable products available, more power to you. If you have the money and the time for it and believe it is important, then be as green as you can.

But when build a house that’s both big and green, I question your true commitment to the latter. Sure, it’s the most green 4800 square foot in town, but is any house that size really green? If you really believed that the environment is in such a precarious state that every effort should be made and no expense spared to build a green home, than wouldn’t you also think about cutting back a bit on the square footage? This seems like another case of concerned environmentalists using money to excuse excess. Like buying carbon credits to offset the jetting that their set is used to, ponying up to make your expansive house green is a way to keep living large without that pesky feeling of guilt for contributing to what you believe is environmental degradation.