It's Not Easy Being Green

Scott Adams narrates the difficulties of building a "green" house:

The greenest home is the one you don't build. If you really want to save the Earth, move in with another family and share a house that's already built. Better yet, live in the forest and eat whatever the squirrels don't want. Don't brag to me about riding your bicycle to work; a lot of energy went into building that bicycle. Stop being a hypocrite like me.

I prefer a more pragmatic definition of green. I think of it as living the life you want, with as much Earth-wise efficiency as your time and budget reasonably allow. Now back to our story.

When I started researching the field of green building, as part of the planning for our own home, I learned that, in many cases, you can't get there from here. Allow me to share some of the things we learned. It's California-centric, but I think you can generalize from my experience.

As a rule, the greener the home, the uglier it will be. I went into the process thinking that green homes were ugly because hippies have bad taste. That turns out to be nothing but a coincidence. The problem is deeper. For example, the greenest sort of roof in a warm climate would be white to reflect the sun. If you want a beautiful home, a white roof won't get you there. Sure, you could put a lovely garden on your roof, because you heard someone did that. But don't try telling me a garden roof wouldn't be a maintenance nightmare. And where do you find the expert who knows how to do that sort of thing?

Second, the greenest sort of home would have few windows because windows bleed heat. In particular, if your lot has a view to the west, forget putting windows on that side because your family members will heat up like ants under a magnifying glass. Try telling your architect that you don't want a lot of windows on the view side. He'll quit.

Remember to skip the water-wasting lawn. White pebbles are the way to go if you want to save the Earth. I was born with almost no sense of style whatsoever, and even I hate looking at pebble lawns, although I do respect the choice.


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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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