Letters

Small is beautiful: Readers respond to Linda Baker's "Great Big Green Monster Mansions."


Salon Staff
July 9, 2004 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Thanks so much for this article!

First of all, I love stories that give me a completely new perspective on something. (I enjoy some preaching to the choir, but am more excited to learn something I didn't know before.) I had never run across the idea that smallness, on its own, represented green values.

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Second, I actually live in a 1,100-square-foot house with a husband, two kids, two cats, and a dog. I had always thought this saved us money because we didn't have to buy as much furniture. I'm delighted to realize that we're also consuming less energy and water.

-- Jill Nichols

Linda Baker's article about house size was interesting, but it did not do a good job of explaining William McDonough's "Cradle to Cradle" design vision.

When McDonough says it's not enough to be "less bad" he means, for example, that we shouldn't be making cars that put less pollution in the air; we should be making cars that clean the air. We shouldn't be making buildings that waste less energy; we should be making buildings that generate a surplus of energy. When the things you build benefit the environment, you don't need to build less than you might want. McDonough has been successful, to put it very mildly, with these design goals.

Building big houses uses more resources, but so does growing big trees. Should we prevent the growth of big trees? The key here is the word "use." The resources "used" by the tree have not left the cradle-to-cradle cycle of nature. When it dies and decomposes you are left with the same materials that you started with. When we "use" materials to build a house, those materials end up in a landfill. Most of it cannot be returned to its constituent materials because of the way it is processed. This is "cradle-to-grave" design that does destroy the planet. McDonough's vision is to build buildings like trees, cradle-to-cradle. Natural resources then don't end up in landfill, and buildings work with nature, instead of against it.

McDonough makes a fairly good case that this is our only option if we want to preserve the environment. Being "less bad" (for example building smaller houses on cradle-to-grave principles) won't get the job done.

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-- Brian Craft

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am tired of being made to feel guilty for using paper napkins and plastic bags by people who have 3,000-square-foot houses with 12-foot ceilings. Here in the Midwest, we actually have an old solution to this problem: the bungalow. Many have raised large (or not-so-large) families in these human-scale houses that are relatively easy to retrofit with energy-efficient products and that do not waste space or heat. And since our communities are used to the style, the houses are easy to sell.

-- Jane Barabe

I have been extremely disturbed for many years about the trend toward larger and larger houses with smaller yards. Before retirement we lived for 25 years in a small town on the Texas coast. We had a hard time selling our four-bedroom, 1,650-square-foot house because it was "too small." It had a beautiful big yard and a very efficient floor plan with no wasted space. The big houses that everyone wants have so much wasted space it is terrible.

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Our new house here in New Mexico is the same size, and to find pre-made plans for such a "small" house we had to go to a book for vacation homes.

Our house is passive solar design. Nothing fancy about the design, but lots of south-facing windows and excellent insulation. The original costs were higher but we have wonderful low utility bills. We have one propane space heater for the whole house and we need to use it only early in the morning or on the few cloudy days. We don't have air conditioning because we are at 7,000 feet and it gets cool enough at night to keep the house cool all day. We open the windows at night and close them in the daytime.

-- Susan McIntyre

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Thank you for an article that spread the message far better than my rooftop screaming had. As an aside, though, the article completely missed what was my most compelling argument against large homes: I'd rather vacuum 1,000 square feet than 4,000.

-- Owen Henderson


Salon Staff

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