Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The platinum flop

Last year, Maine's Wright-Ryan builders finished the first LEED-certified platinum green home in the northeast: a "luxury" 3200 square foot spread in the bobo Elysia of South Freeport. A year after its completion, though, the house is still empty while its brokers struggle to find a buyer.

So, why doesn't anyone want to shell out $1.1 million for this place? It's got custom cabinets made from sunflower seed shells, and triple-pane south-facing windows, and exceptional indoor air quality. It comes with 2.6 acres of land on a former woodlot, PLUS a two-car garage, which will come in handy because the nearest jobs, stores, and services are all miles away.

Sunflower-seed cabinets aside, it's a bit hard to understand how a such a large suburban dwelling built in a formerly rural area could be considered "green." Solar panels are cool and everything, but if your grocery shopping trip burns as many BTUs in an hour as they'll produce in a whole week, then what the heck is the point?

This is an oft-cited shortcoming of the LEED rating system: because the US Green Building Council's awards are points-based, a builder can make up for points lost on a lousy, unsustainable site by going the extra mile on things like insulation and renewable power systems.

The Freeport house may have gamed the LEED system, but homebuyers in the market aren't so easily fooled. The people looking for green homes just aren't that interested in paying $1 million to live in a huge house in the boondocks. Hopefully, the builders' experience with this place provides them with some valuable lessons without scaring them off from future LEED projects.

Related: Maine Sunday Telegram: "Unaffordably Green?" By Tux Turkel. November 4, 2007


Anonymous said...

god man have you ever done any proof reading
might be a good idea to start
sometimes you lose me in your rambles

C Neal said...

How's this?

God, man. Have you ever done any proofreading?
It might be a good idea to start.
Sometimes you lose me in your rambles.

Brown said...

Additional questions would include an assessment of the environmental impact of creating a brand new home in any location. What cost, environmentally, in using all new materials to create a home that looks substantially like existing stock that could be retro-fitted for a fraction of the cost in new materials. And where did those materials ship from? A friend of mine recently completed a home/shop for himself in eastern Vermont substantially (framing, flooring and trim) from wood felled at or near the building site. Milled locally, it traveled practically nowhere. Finally (and you allude to this): 3200 square feet? Are you a family of 12?

pjfinn said...

Think we'll ever learn to connect the dots?

jkirlin said...

Yeah, renting a pre-exiting unit is much cooler. It's like being a hermit crab.