Culture Fail: The Oxymoron of the EcoMansion

Thanks to advances in technology, new homes can be built more energy efficient than ever. Unfortunately, our cultural mindset has yet to catch up with technology. A lot of these energy efficient houses are also larger than ever, and that’s not really ok.

It’s not that houses are just a little bit larger; they are a lot larger. Like, crazy large. With the steady decline in household size and the rise in actual home size, the average person has almost 900 square feet to themselves (compared to the 300 square feet per person back in the 50s). 900 square feet? That’s bigger than the house I shared with my boyfriend in college, and that gave us a spare room that he could use as a study.

What’s driving the increase in home size? Says John Abrams, a home designer and builder for Martha’s Vineyard-based South Mountain Company: “First, with less of a sense of community and public life in our culture, the home becomes a fortress which needs to contain everything we need, including multiple forms of entertainment, rather than basic shelter; second, the building industry has been selling ‘big is better’ and the message has been heard; and third, diminishing craft and design generosity has resulted in sterile homes–people mistakenly think that what’s missing is grandeur: more space.”

Piggybacking on the “bigger is better” movement is the new rise in eco-mansions (yep, that’s an oxymoron), a classic case of greenwashing. (In case you don’t know, “greenwashing” is a marketing strategy that promotes a product as green when really, it’s not.) Sure, if you’re dead-set on living in a mansion, make it an eco-friendly one. But if you’re just looking for a more energy-efficient lifestyle, keep this in mind: a 1,500 square foot home with mediocre energy efficiency will still use less heating and cooling energy than most “energy efficient” 3,000 square foot homes. And you won’t have all that cavernous, echoing space begging to be filled with crap like the “Topping Tornado” (seriously, it just puts sprinkles on your cupcakes for you. And it’s huge. Why does it exist?).

Ideally, we’d all focus on eliminating the changes that have led to the rise of the family mansion: ignore the “big is better” mindset sold by the building industry; focus on function and beauty in lieu of sterility and space; and get involved in community and family instead of building a private wonderland–regardless of how eco-friendly it is.

by Mica Habarad