Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Extreme Home Makeover

You may have watched ABC's Extreme Home Makeover. The premise is simple. First you find a deserving family with a beat up old house. Then send them on vacation for a week to some beautiful locale, far away from the old domicile. Then assemble a construction crew that demolishes the old house with great excitement and fanfare. Then the crew hurries to build a new home from foundation to roof with inspired interior appointments in a few short days before the family returns home. The new, large and oftentimes opulent replacement is unveiled for the family as hundreds of members of the community watch and applaud. Sound like a dream-come-true?

The families selected to receive these new homes are required to provide an application video showing their need and reasons they can't make the changes themselves. Their stories are compelling and there is no question that they deserve something much better than their previous surroundings. In most cases, the families have very limited financial resources. So what can be better than demolishing the old and replacing it with something big and new?

Sustainability. I don't necessarily mean that in the sense that demolishing the old home and sending it to the landfill is not sustainable. Nor am I concerned whether the new materials are derived from sustainable resources. Well...actually maybe I am concerned about both, but neither is the point of this discussion. What I am really concerned about is whether the financially limited family will be able to sustain this new monster house for more than one utility billing cycle!

Think about it. Even the most efficient house still has some heating and/or cooling costs. The bigger the house, the more volume that will be mechanically conditioned. Then there is on-going maintenance. The larger the house, the more there is to paint, caulk, fix, clean, etc. Is this really what these families need? Does giving one of these families something they probably can't afford to maintain will really help them in the long run?

It doesn't appear that the recipient is given much input on the overall design of the new house. I have never heard anyone ask if they would like to keep it of reasonable size or make it as efficient as possible. Fortunately I see that ABC is starting to incorporate energy efficient materials into the house construction. In some limited cases, they are using solar and other "site manufactured" energy sources to help with the monthly utility costs. Is this because the feel compelled to be a part of the green building movement from a politically correct standpoint? Regardless, this is certainly a step in the right direction for economic sustainability.

Now maybe they can start working on changing the "bigger is better" mindset and start creating imaginative, but moderately sized spaces designed for the long term. This would certainly provide a better solution for those of limited means trying to use their new home as the center of a newly improved lifestyle. These families typically already have some significant burdens they are forced to carry. It doesn't seem right to increase that load to the point that they are broken by it.

I have no objection to building large homes and to those who can afford buying and maintaining them. That is their business. I only object to those that think that the only good house is a huge house and that it is the only healthy environment for American families. Like it or not, TV is very influential. What is depicted is often considered a "normal" standard for everyone.

I can afford large, but choose to dwell in small. I don't want to spend my hard earned income paying the utility company or spending every weekend trying to maintain the house. There are more important things to do. I would hope that ABC would permit the same freedom to its Extreme Makeover recipients.

Photo: Washington State entry in the 2005 Solar Decathlon. 800sf of totally energy independent living. This could easily be doubled in size without increasing the amount of solar collection devices. Could this be the next model for Extreme Home Makeover? Why not buy one of the houses from the 2007 Decathlon? Why not partner with one of the teams in 2009?


No comments: