B9: Bigger Is Not Better

by Kate David, aka Shaker Katecontinued, of make-a-(green) plan. Kate pretends to be retired in the North Coast of San Diego. 2008 is her year of challenging herself to reduce her carbon footprint and live a more sustainable life. Green heals her from her outrage exhaustion with politics.

I have this re-occurring thought about all the McMansions and what might be done with them post oil and post mortgage bust. When people start realizing the excessive acquisition of constructed square footage is indefensible, how will these buildings be repurposed?

Okay, I admit I don't have an answer. Maybe I will try to get my hands on an AutoCAD file of one of these homes and start studying this.

In the meantime, I found these graphics when I followed a link to a Margot Adler piece for NPR.

The average American house size has more than doubled since the 1950s; it now stands at 2,349 square feet. Whether it's a McMansion in a wealthy neighborhood, or a bigger, cheaper house in the exurbs, the move toward ever large homes has been accelerating for years.
I am critical of much of the rationalization within this NPR piece, with sources justifying large homes. There is even a guy (ex-media journalist, ahem) defending his 11,000 square foot home as fantasy fulfillment. And this:

"You know, we are very tenuous," says local architect Ann Surchin. "No one knows when the next 9/11 will happen. And these houses represent safety -- and the bigger the house, the bigger the fortress."
Oh, please. How nutty is that? I tried to follow this thought to provide examples, but it is just too silly to spell out and I lost interest.

Another critic is John Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust, an organization that tries to protect open spaces and agricultural land. For Halsey, the "Big House" is all about the American lifestyle: how we live, what we drive, and how we fail to appreciate the finite nature of land and energy resources.

"Who needs 15,000-square-foot houses?" Halsey says. "I worry about the future of a culture and a society that has this extent of excess in it. I think there is a disconnect, and we are in a bubble. Somehow, we are just not experiencing the realities that the rest of the world is.
Ya think? I'll own up to my snarkiness. I just find the justifications a real stretch. My first notions of home when I was a little kid were shaped by my Grandma's home.

I found out as an adult that the familial bungalow was bought by her husband from a Sears Catalog. At the time I thought it sounded like a joke. But it's not according to Wikipedia.

Sears Catalog Homes (sold as Sears Modern Homes) were ready-to-assemble houses sold through mail order by Sears Roebuck and Company, an American retailer. Over 70,000 of these were sold in North America between 1908 and 1940. Shipped via railroad boxcars, these kits included all the materials needed to build an exceptionally sturdy and well designed house. Many were assembled by the new homeowner and friends, relatives, and neighbors, in a fashion similar to the traditional barn-raisings of farming families. [snip]

Aladdin Homes (of Bay City) was the first to offer kit homes (in 1906), and Sears joined the fray in 1908. However, Sears mail-order catalogs were already in millions of homes, enabling large numbers of potential homeowners simply to open a catalog, select and visualize their new home, dream, save, and then purchase it. Sears offered financing, assembly instructions, and guarantees. Early mortgage loans were typically for 5–15 years at 6%- 7% interest. [snip]

Sears expanded production, shipping and sales offices to regional sites all across the United States, hitting its all-time peak in 1929, just before the Great Depression. By then, the least expensive model was still under US$1,000; the highest priced was under US$4,400 ($10,300 and $45,300 in 2003 dollars respectively).
I am just tickled to death to place Grandma's home beside the Sears plan from which it was built, sans fireplace and arched front door. The roof looks like it has a minor profile modification too. I am writing my 84 year old mom this week with these images and many more of her childhood and mine at this home. This collage really pleases me. Part of the make-a-(green) plan is to honor our connections, our community. Cooperation and working together is the alternative to individual dreams of palatial riches.

Isn't it ironic that Sears now funds "The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and the opulent over-built mansions featured on that program. The country is upside down.

I close with a great example of my favorite theme of small homes. This video is a hoot. This guy lives in the 96 square foot home he designed. That is 1/10 the size of even the standard from fifty years ago and 1/100 the size of the Sears Home Makeover buildings.



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