All images credit Builder Magazine Concept Home
It is that time of year again, the once-huge builders show in Orlando, where every year they build a concept home and every year I gripe about it. One might think that this year I would have less to complain about; after all, it is net zero energy. What's more, "it has been labeled as a "Maximized Energy-Efficient Home" by the U.S. Department of Energy.Additionally, the home has been recognized with a variety of other green building achievements, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR® and WaterSense® qualifications, U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) for Homes Platinum rating and Environments for Living® green certification."
Why does this make me cringe?
Let's start with the basic plan. Last year, in response to the economic conditions, they got a real architect, Marianne Cusato, to design a modest, 1700 square foot home on a tight urban site, calling it a "home for the new economy." This year, it is somehow back to the old economy, with KBhomes and Martha Stewart, no more such frivolities as having a real architect.
Don't even get started asking how a house on a sixty foot lot can get all those green labels; transportation energy intensity and location doesn't come into play. I could go on with proof that a zero net energy green house in the 'burbs uses more fossil fuels than a drafty shack in the city, even with an electric car in the garage, but I have done that here and Kaid Benfield did it better here.
There also isn't much green and efficient about the plan; this is the view from "Flex Room", which would have been the front hall in the old days. Nobody uses a front door in the suburbs, they all come through the garage, so there is no point calling it a hall anymore, so they threw a dining table into it.
It's true that they did combine all of the living into one great room, which is an improvement. The kitchen counters are Dupont's zodiac quartz, and there is a neat Blanco composting system built in.
The wall section is a mystery to me. It has a rigid insulation board, "AP Foil-faced sheathing board is composed of a uniform closed-cell polyisocyanurate foam core bonded on each side to a trilaminate foil facer produced with a non-HCFC blowing agent." The exterior is Hardiplank, a cement siding board. But why is it built on either side of a concrete block wall? I know concrete block is pretty standard construction in Florida, but it one was going to build a so-called green house, one might at least try to minimize the carbon footprint of construction. One might think of the full life cycle carbon cost when calling it "zero energy." They don't.
Then there is the roof, insulated with fossil fuel based polyurethane foam treated with a fire retardant, covered with Sunpower solar shingles and a Saxony 900 shake, which has a very green description that needs a little parsing:
Concrete roof tile in a wood-shake design and a charcoal brown blend features locally harvested raw materials, (gravel and limestone are no longer excavated from quarries, it is "harvested" and concrete, too expensive to ship long distances, is now "local" Wow.) low impact manufacturing processes, and reabsorbs up to 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. (cement production creates 5% of the world's CO2; as it cures, it absorbs some back. Now cement is being marketed as a CO2 eater!) Energy efficient installation techniques minimize heating and cooling costs. Natural in origin, (it's cooked limestone and excavated gravel! All natural!) concrete tiles can be recycled to minimize environmental impact. (by whom? into what?)
That paragraph is perhaps the worst bit of greenwashing of a product that I have seen this year.
So what have we got in the end? A standard suburban bungalow on a big lot with enough solar cells on the roof to achieve net zero, upgraded appliances and insulation added to get Energy Star and Water Sense, all good things, achieved by adding stuff. But that is what KB homes and other builders do- sell options and upgrades. If all of this stuff was included in the house, only a small proportion of the population could afford it and no bank would finance it. Ultimately it is, as Nic Darling so aptly put it, just polishing a turd.
But if we are going to building really green, we have to start thinking about not adding stuff, but using less in the first place. Less land, smaller frontages, less concrete, fewer green gizmos, fewer "flex spaces" that really aren't.
As for LEED Platinum, if this house actually gets it, I will be totally dismayed. There is something seriously wrong with the LEED system if something like this can get its highest rating.