“The McMansion is dead, we will never again build with such extravagance”
This thought has been expressed many times during the last few years and it came up again during a recent planning session for building professionals committed to Green building. I wondered out loud if the thought was accurate and I have continued to think about it. I remember coming out of the recession and energy crisis in the early 1980’s and immediately seeing large homes (6,000-8,000 square feet) being built on one acre lots. We did learn a little about making our homes more energy efficient, but otherwise returned to our old habits once the crisis was over and energy costs were back to normal.
We have some interesting dynamics in the building industry today and I consider housing at the forefront in many ways. We have been hearing about building smaller homes for awhile and have also been learning how to build Green (or sustainable). Much of what we are learning about sustainable building focuses on making our buildings more energy efficient and in some cases totally self sufficient with “off the (energy) grid” being a popular phrase. Another major component of building green is to build only what you need, be efficient with space and reduce the amount of natural resources required to build. The obvious benefit of these concepts besides being green, is that they lower the cost to build and operate our buildings. During tough economic times, what could be better? Build green, save the planet, save money, everybody wins!
Another factor plays into this from a financial perspective, how we think about our homes as an investment. Traditionally we Americans have felt safe pouring money into our homes because it was a sure way to make a profit from appreciation when we sold a few years later. This comfort level led many of us to build more house than we needed or could afford. I have personally been in new homes and seen a mattress on the floor of the master bedroom and wondered why someone would build so much home that they couldn’t afford to have furniture.
As I stated earlier, I saw a quick return to extravagant building before, and now wonder what the future will look like when we finally come out of this current economic condition. I’m already seeing some evidence of building large homes coming back and wonder how many of us will continue on that path.
My hope is that enough Americans have learned valuable lessons from the McMansion mindset and will think about homes differently in the future. My hope is that we look at home as a place to raise our families, care for our parents and live out our lives; in other words, home should be the pace where we dwell and not be a piggy bank. If we approach designing our homes expecting to live in them for many years, we can begin to better consider every detail, every material, relationships between building and site and how our lives will evolve as we age. This new mindset could cause us to search for ways to design that will allow our buildings to support the way we want to live.
A recent example of this idea was shared with me by friends who moved to a smaller home for economic reasons. They realized that they saw more of each other and actually removed tv’s from their bedrooms and watch tv together, taking turns with who picks the shows to watch. They’ve discovered each other and never intend to go back to the way they used to live. Take that example and consider how you spend time in your home, how you cook, eat, spend family time, entertain, etc. then imagine how radically we could change our lives in a positive way through our buildings.
I want to challenge you to think about the buildings you live in and work in. Think about how that building makes you feel, what aspects make your life better and what aspects make you uncomfortable or inefficient. Notice areas that that bring people together or keep them separated. What spaces are inviting and give you comfort? Think about how you could make your home suit your lifestyle better. Make mental notes or better yet, contact me with your list and I’ll share some of them in a future post.