At last week's mammoth International Builders' Show in Orlando, a prestigious centerpiece model, dubbed the New American Home 2008, was big, really big. It was also billed as eco-friendly, having been packed with various energy efficiency and green features.
The 7,000-square-foot, plantation-style home in a Lake Nona, Fla., subdivision boasted a $4.8-million price tag. "It's too, too big," Ray Accettella, president of the Long Island Builders Institute and an executive at Jarro Building Industries, told Newsday.
The palatial estate includes 2,950 square feet of covered outdoor living space, four bedrooms, including a massive master suite, a second-story game room/theater room, a guest suite and a leisure room with walls that retract and open to a landscaped pool.
In contrast, the first model home in this series, built in 1984 in Houston, was only 1,500 square feet. Experts say the steady march upward in floor space has been driven by the desire to show off as many different features and appliances to viewers as possible. They say model homes have become less about literal examples, and more for inspiring other builders and homebuyers.
On some level that makes sense: it's sort of like high fashion on the runways, which most people can't afford and wouldn't want to wear anyway. But those cutting-edge outfits inspire design down the line to regular-people clothes. But it's also a possibility that enormous show homes contribute to the burgeoning sizes of all our dwellings, which mean more and more resources consumed and bigger and bigger footprints. After walking through a model home, people may feel that smaller just won't do.
In a move that is exciting for the growing world of green building, the New American Home 2008 also boasted eco-friendly features, in the form of solar hot water, high-efficiency mechanical systems and airtight insulation. Energy consumption is cut by 64 percent for cooling, 55 percent for heating and 57 percent for hot water.
The home even earned a gold rating, the highest status in the new National Association of Home Builders' Green Building Program. It's unclear how the house would fare in the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes program, which does include penalties for large size.
It's exciting that so many leaders of the building and homes industry were exposed to green features at this year's big conference. Hopefully those values will filter down over time, saving consumers money and going lighter on the planet. And hopefully, people won't be compelled to build vastly more space then they really need.
The house pictured is emblematic of today's American dream: big and flashy. Green building is helping many homeowners decrease their footprint, but we should give a thought to size as well.
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