The choices we make about where and how we live have a tremendous impact on our environment, community and economic well-being. If we choose wisely, we can minimize the negative impacts while maximizing value. They go hand in hand. Well-designed, efficient spaces can be beautiful, functional and comfortably provide for our needs.
Architect and “Not So Big House” author Sarah Susanka defined a relationship with “home” that is driven by quality not quantity. This is a timeless message that is often lost in our culture of consumption and growth. The term “bigger is better” means little when it comes to Green Living.
Southern Nevada has no shortage of over-the-top, gated communities filled with ridiculously-sized and often poorly-built homes. These enclaves scattered throughout the valley often feel more like tropical islands than the Mojave Desert. The blatant waste of water and energy almost seems to be a prerequisite, as if reality is a foreign concept that does not apply to those who can afford to trash our precious environmental commons. Actually, that is exactly the case. Some of these “homes” use more energy in a week or two than most of us use in a year. It is perhaps something to think about the next time your child suffers an asthma attack caused in part by the profligate transmutation of coal to electricity.
The environmental benefits of a “right-sized” home are substantial and long term, and they are much more socially responsible. First of all, there is the savings in raw materials. Fewer trees are cut, less concrete poured and less fuel is consumed transporting materials to our valley. Those who choose to live in smaller homes can focus more on the things that make life more rich and meaningful. They can spend more time with family and less time cleaning. A compact home built (or remodeled) to good “green building” standards can save the owner tens of thousands of dollars in avoided energy, water, maintenance and even health care costs.
Older homes are almost always smaller, since the trend has been a steady increase in square footage per family. Restoring an older home using green building methods is a great way to revitalize neighborhoods, improve efficiency and reduce our environmental impact. People with small homes can do amazing things. A small office at home can double as a guest room when needed. If that office actually is “the office,” as is the case with a growing number of creative people, then the green benefits are multiplied. No commuting equals no polluting, plus there’s more time for work – or not – as the case may be.
A new story is necessary to define our lives and the role we play in society. There are so many of us sharing the earth that our collective impact is enormous. We can redefine what is of true value and embrace the benefits of living in “not so big” houses, even for those with fewer financial limits. Our new story can include choosing quality over quantity, richness of detail over square footage, and long term environmental health over the short term “status” of living in a “McMansion.”
Living beyond the sustainable capacity of our planet has become a personal and societal liability. Just like smoking cigarettes, it is no longer cool, acceptable, smart or healthy. Green Living is about choosing wisely with clarity and consciousness. The joy of living within our environmental means is something we should all strive for. A life well-lived, in a cozy home that is just the right size, is one way to get there.