Wednesday, December 05, 2007

To be or not to be Green


I'm back to dreaming of building our dream house. I always do this when I get planted here at home. Why? Because I have never been satisfied with our old house yet I have never seen one other new one (in our town, in our price range) in that I would prefer. The sad fact is that today's homes are devoid of true character. I understand all the economical reasons for the blandness, but it grates on me nevertheless. I do not want a trophy home or anything remotely resembling the horrible things being built today. I want a smart home that blends with its environment, uses resources wisely, and has subtle understated style. No packaged theme, no faux finishes, no stamped concrete, no granite countertops, no wall of windows. No cathedral ceilings, no walk-out basement, no 3-car front entry garage, no wasted space.

I've wanted a smart "sustainable" house long before the term became vogue. Now I am afraid "sustainable" will be another fraud--becoming a design style term with no substance after developers catch on to it. Eco, green, and sustainable are the new catch phrases. Intentions may be good. I am happy to see all the attention on rethinking our homebuilding. We all want to be conscious of our carbon footprint, our impact on the earth. I just hope developers and builders will embrace this revolution honestly. For me, however, the time is not right for us to take the leap. To be pioneers in this movement requires lots of research, effort, and money. Building green is not cheap, not yet.

Our home is a sprawling California-style ranch circa 1970. For all it's flaws I think it's still heads up over the split-ranch and still later contemporary Tudor and Mediterranean styles with their monster ceilings and interior columns. At least a ranch has correct proportions. Our house suffers innocently from obsolescence. It could benefit from advances made in heating and cooling, especially. My new house would practically be off the grid and real. No pretense.

But since it is our home of the last 15 years and since it is no strain on our finances we keep it. We improve where we can. It's like the gas guzzler vehicle you may own. You weigh a new car payment against the rising fuel costs and decide for yourself which is worse. I read something interesting today in Dwell (Dec/Jan) magazine. For the most part Dwell and literature like it sickens me with it's pretentiousness and often god awful love of ugly-ass architecture. But an article, "On the Level," struck a chord. It discusses the renovation of the sweetheart of postwar suburbia, the split-level house. Most people agree they are ugly, but they occupy en masse the older neighborhoods that are becoming attractive to buyers. What's a design aesthete to do but make the necessity of economy suddenly chic? It's becoming cool to look at the split-level as worth saving. They are relics of a particular period in American housing history built quickly and affordable for the middle-class. According to architect Peter Cardew, they have a cultural value worth preserving. He advocates saving the lowly split-level and in this one statement he makes a stunning argument regarding sustainability: "When people talk about sustainability, they are usually referring to a new architecture, but when you figure that most of the energy that goes into a building comes from the one-time act of construction, you are already ahead when you can keep a building rather than demolish it."

Right. Hadn't really thought about it that way. For us to go green we would eat up more energy and resources than if we stayed put in our obsolete mid-century home. That is news Robert will love to hear since he's never been interested much in my new house-lusting daydreams. Foiled again.

No comments: