What happens when environmental awareness powered by 21st century technology, meets refined elegance with a dash of sensible economics? The luxury green home is a new modern take on homeownership that elevates the American Dream beyond the McMansions of a pre-recession era. It offers luxurious sensibilities, without sacrificing sustainability, or forgoing a grounded, holistic approach to space-making.
Diamonds Are Forever. Homes Should Be Too.
When it comes to meeting the needs and desires of our loved ones, we as Americans spare no expenses. The nation dropped nearly 18 billion dollars on food, flowers, jewelry, and other luxuries on Valentine’s Day alone. We spend a dazzling 36 billion dollars per year, which equals the spending of the rest of the world combined diamonds. Granted, some of that demand stems from various real-world applications, such as industrial coatings and lasers, but most of the shiny stones end up as luxury ornaments on hands, ears, and around necks. And that’s okay, because when we give to our loved ones, we want to give them something that lasts. We want to give them the best. Why would we not regard our dwellings in the same light?
What kind of built environments do we aspire for our families to live in? The truth is, aside from the granite countertops and mahogany cabinets, most of us don’t know, and frankly, don’t really care. America’s utter disregard for the quality of their homes shows. The typical suburban house can be described with one word: flimsy. This critique applies as readily to tract housing as it does to custom homes. A vast majority of today’s luxury dwellings are plywood palaces thrown up in a matter of days, wrapped in paper mache drywall, then frosted with a healthy serving of stucco for that “Tuscan villa” flavor. Our homes are baked in the oven of mass production and marketed by weight, in this case, square footage. Aside from a very apparent lack of aesthetic imagination, there is ample evidence to suggest that these matchbox shelters could very well be killing us with toxic off gassing, poor ventilation, and poorly optimized lighting – hardly the ideal environment for those we love, and a far shot from any abiding notion of luxury.
Some see an inherent contradiction between luxury and the concept of sustainability. But it is precisely within the context of luxury that sustainability becomes indispensable. After all, building with sustainability in mind is very much about building better, building healthier, embedding efficiency, and investing more upfront for an altogether superior product. If we begin to read luxury as placing an importance on durability, quality, and buying smarter, the link to sustainability becomes indisputable. We give diamonds because of their extraordinary durability and lasting value. Our homes should feel the same way.
The Economics of Forever
The number one misconception about luxury homes and sustainability is the notion that building green, without utterly foregoing sumptuous comfort, will break the bank, and is therefore economically unfeasible. In reality, studies indicate that building with sustainability in mind can add as little as 2 percent to a custom home’s premium. It will certainly cost more upfront to build green, but the economic rewards often outweigh the costs, an equation that is further amplified by time. For example, taking proven and available solar energy technologies, a typical home in Central Texas could expect a conservative payback time within a decade (depending on system size and configuration). While ten years may seem like a long time, that is a relatively minuscule duration in comparison to the expected life of a luxury home that is built to last for fifty, or even a hundred years. In the meantime, low-maintenance solar modules are typically guaranteed to run efficiently for 20 years, although most panels will function effectively for half a century or more. Everything produced after the initial payback period is pure profit. Better yet, producing power onsite frees the homeowners from ever-rising utility prices. Sustainably-built homes also typically experience an immediate boost in resale value that can often completely and instantaneously offset any additional initial investment.
The idea of paying a little bit more for deep savings in the near future is the hallmark of the new luxury ecohome. Every component of the house, from energy generation to insulation, undergoes a meticulous life cycle costs analysis that asks these fundamental questions – Will it last? Is it worth it? This kind of rigor, which begins during a building’s design phase and continues until completion, ensures a durable, comfortable dwelling that is not only eco-friendly, but also gives back considerably in energy and maintenance savings over time. Can diamonds do that?