Can a “gigantic luxury house” meet LEED standards?

Kain Benfield recaps an argument that LEED standards may really no be up to par if they big houses can obtain the awards:

In particular, did you know that this latest LEED-Platinum home – the highest rating bestowed by the Green Building Council, in theory only for the very greenest of green buildings – is nearly three times the size of the average new American home?  Would you be surprised to learn that it sits on a lot occupying two-thirds of an acre, consuming nearly twice as much land as the average new-home lot in a US metro area?  How about that it is located in a “gated community” on the far outskirts of Las Vegas (Mike Tyson is a fellow resident), 1.2 miles to the nearest transit stop?  Or that its Walk Score is a miserable 38 out of a possible 100 points?…

The building in question is the latest in a series of showcase homes featured by The National Association of Home Builders every year during its annual trade show.  It’s called “The New American Home” and the idea is to celebrate and publicize the state of the art in American homebuilding.  This one has 6,721 square feet of floor space, nine bathrooms (but only three bedrooms, plus a home office and library), and extensive “water features.”  The house also includes 17,261 square feet of “outdoor living space.”  (The average size of a newly completed American, single-family home in 2011 was 2480 square feet.)…

All this means that a household living in the New American Home, all things considered, is as likely to be brown as green in its environmental performance if the measure of that performance is determined by a full accounting of the home’s characteristics, no matter how many efficiency gizmos are built into it…

In other words, since we can’t stop people from building trophy houses in the desert even if we wanted to, we should at least encourage them to build those trophy houses a little better:  if you’re determined to build a house almost three times bigger than the average American house, in a gated luxury subdivision where you have to drive long distances to do anything, it’s better to do so with green technology than not.

But, come on, platinum?  The Seven Hills development wouldn’t come close to qualifying for a certification under LEED for Neighborhood Development, which takes location and neighborhood design into account as well as building technology.  LEED-ND includes a prerequisite that a development applying for a rating, even at the lowest level, include certified green buildings.  As a leader of the environmental groups involved in constructing that system, I supported that prerequisite.  I wanted us to create a system that defined and encouraged smart growth; it’s my belief that, in this day and age, smart growth isn’t really smart unless it includes green buildings.

I’ve wondered about this myself – it seems like the context in which the house is located should matter.

But, I still think there is a bigger issue here that bothers some people: how can a really large house, in this case just over 6,700 square feet, ever really be considered green, even with all of the green bells and whistles as well as the greener context, when that amount of space is simply unnecessary and wasteful.

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