While I applaud Paul Holland and Linda Yates’s commitment to building a green home (“Xanadu,” by Joshua Green, July/August Atlantic) and hope other multimillionaires with estate-home plans follow suit, I wonder how a 5,600-square-foot single-family house sited in what appears to be semi-wildland, with five cars (albeit electric), a pool, and playing court could be the greenest house in the world. This raises concerns for me about LEED, which seems to focus on the physical house while ignoring its context. Wouldn’t it be greener for the couple to move up the peninsula from Silicon Valley to San Francisco (or any compact community), buy a 1,500-square-foot home that has been there for many decades, take public transit to work, and join the YMCA?
San Francisco, Calif.
Joshua Green replies:
I sent Amy Hutzel’s letter to Linda Yates, and she responded: “When it comes to environmental impact, size matters, but what matters most is energy efficiency and the use of alternative energy. One of the home’s greenest features is its ability to produce enough clean energy to supply our needs and still return some to the grid. We don’t have five cars, but we’ll produce enough solar energy to charge five cars, so our transportation, along with our home, will be fossil-fuel-free and oil-independent for most of our day-to-day living. The site itself is, in a sense, recycled (not wildlands): the home is being built on the property where I grew up, which we’re returning to a more native state, both by replacing the existing, energy-inefficient dwelling and by restoring the surrounding habitat. We expect there will be ancillary benefits, too. The home will foster several clean technologies that others can use, which we hope will spark not just imaginations but new industries and new jobs.