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Big & green

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By John Foster

Homes showcased in Homearama are touted as “green” and “conservation developments.”

Yeah, right.

The homes are beautiful, enviable and creative, but let’s be clear. 

They’re not green. 

There’s no such thing as a 7,800-square foot green home.

That’s like a whole grain Twinkie, or a family-friendly R-rated movie, or more accurately, it’s like an Escalade Hybrid. Sure it’s better than the 15 mile-per-gallon guzzlers, but now it’s in the same range as the Jeep Grand Cherokee — not exactly stopping global warming in its tracks.

If you really want the Escalade, the hybrid is a step in the right direction, helping decrease our reliance on countries like Venezuela, Russia and Saudi Arabia while doing something good for the environment — not great, but good.

In the same respect, Energy Star homes are rated to save about one-third of the energy for a conventionally built home. All except one of the Homearama homes boast Energy Star ratings. So does this make them energy-efficient homes? About as much as an Escalade Hybrid is a fuel-efficient car.

If you have a 7,800-square foot Energy Star rated home, it uses the energy of a standard 5,200-square foot home — or about twice as much as the average new American home according to the National Association of Home Builders.

And to be fair, 7,800 is the top end of the homes in the show. At Shakes Run in Eastwood, the homes are as small as 3,600-square feet. At that level, the argument that it’s a “green” home becomes more palatable.

As well, the builders at Homearama took many laudable steps toward reducing their homes’ energy use and impact on the environment. They’ve been careful not to disturb more soil than necessary and used more sustainable lumber practices than standard. These are all good steps that are becoming more en vogue, steps these builders employ in their smaller homes as well.

But it still comes across as a token effort. There’s no way to build a 7,800-square foot home without using more than your share of natural resources.

You want a true conservation development, look at Museum Plaza, if it ever gets built. It will take up about the same land as the Homearama development, but will house about 100 residences near where people actually work instead of miles down a country road. 

Those individual condos will use only a fraction of the energy of a 7,800- square foot standalone house, no matter what cutting-edge insulation is in the walls.

There are plenty of good reasons to want to live at a place like Poplar Woods instead of Museum Plaza; partially because the homes have everything you could ever want, including a front-row seat on nature. But being near nature is not the same as conserving it.

But who’s to blame? Can’t blame the farmer who sold the land for much more than it was worth with corn on it. 

Can’t blame the builders — dedicated, creative, charming types who are just trying to showcase their skills and make a good paycheck. 

Can’t blame the planning and zoning commission — it meets all the rules. Heck, it’s even good for the local economy and the tax base. 

And you can’t really blame the buyers. Sure we think if we had a mil to spare, we’d spend it on something more fruitful than eight bathrooms, but who am I to say what I’d do in that situation.

So, no one’s to blame. But let’s not let that distract us into mistaking excess for conservation.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer. 

E-mail us about this colum at: jfoster@oldhamera.com