Too Big to be Green? Berkeley Mansion Prompts Outrage …

Can a huge house, however efficient, really be green? This question has dogged several prominent eco-minded people who live large, including former vice president Al Gore, who has a green-certified mansion in Nashville.

Mitch Kapor, the software pioneer who co-founded Lotus Development Corp., is proposing to build an eco-mansion in Berkeley, Calif., that has prompted complaints by environmentalists and neighbors about its size.
CAPTIONBy Associated PressNow, the debate swirls around Mitch Kapor, a software mogul who founded Lotus Development Corp. and a philanthropist who’s donated millions to environmental groups. In ultra-green Berkeley, Calif., he’s planning to build a sleek 6,478-square-foot house plus an attached 10-car garage.

Neighbors and environmentalists are outraged that the home meets the city’s green building standard, developed by the non-profit Build It Green group, which does not consider size, reports The News York Times.

“That the staff, the owners and the architects indulge in this kind of green-washing only serves to make a joke out of Berkeley’s environmental aspirations,” Gary Earl Parsons, a Berkeley architect and a member of that city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, wrote on the Berkeleyside blog.

Defending the point system is Greg Powell, the city’s senior planner assigned to the project.”True, the greenest house is the house you don’t build,” he told The New York Times. “But we assume people are going to build new homes, and we encourage them to make them better.”

How much does size matter?

The Kapor home is likely to require far more resources than the average home, which Census Bureau data indicates is now slightly less than 2,500 square feet.

Some green certification programs consider a home’s size when awarding points. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program will subtract points if a home is larger than average. For example a three-bedroom home will lose points if it’s larger than 1,900 square feet but gain them if it’s smaller than that.

Still, LEED has certified many huge homes, provided they accumulate enough other points for energy efficiency, water conservation, natural materials, clean indoor air and site selection.

The National Association of Green Builders’ rating system gives extra points for smaller-than-average homes but doesn’t subtract them for larger ones.

My green home is designed with 2,500 square feet of above-ground living space. It’s waiting for building permits.
CAPTIONBy Cunningham/Quill ArchitectsIn designing my own green home, I thought a lot about size. My family sold a 5,000-square-foot home in McLean, Va., in December 2008, so we could start over and live smaller and greener.

Our living space will be about 2,500 square feet, including thick exterior walls. Because we won’t have a garage, we’ll have another 400 square feet in the basement for storage and mechanical equipment. We’ll also have a basement in-law suite.

That’s our decision. Should others who build larger but with ultra-efficient systems and eco-friendly materials be criticized?

New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman, author of
CAPTIONBy Nancy Ostertag, Getty ImagesHow about The New York Times’ columnist Tom Friedman, author of the best-selling Hot, Flat and Crowded, who built a very large house in Maryland but has since retrofitted it with geothermal heating/cooling and other green features?

I know an architect who was asked by a client how to build a “green” 10,000-square-foot home. The architect quipped: “Aside from not building it?”

William H. Harrison, an Atlanta architect who has wealthy clients, told The New York Times that penalizing people for building large houses could slow the adoption of green building practices.

“The people who can afford the green technologies are going to want large houses,” he said in the story, adding that those innovations will trickle down to smaller houses.

In Berkeley, the Kapors’ house received 91 points, far more than the 60 needed for the city’s green designation. Its plans, developed by Berkeley-based Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, include a massive underground garage for visitors. It says neighbors were concerned about on-street parking. It also says the dilapated house that now sits there will be deconstructed so its materials will be salvaged and recycled.

The City Council will review the Kapors’ case next month, because the zoning board’s earlier approval has been appealed.

Treehugger’s Lloyd Alter says the Kapors have received a bit of a bum rap, because their home — while large — is still far smaller than what its lot (two-thirds of an acre) would allow.


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Filed under Green Building, green living, Luxury and Sustainability

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