Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The 26-Toilet Mansion: How Much Energy Use is Too Much?

Rich people who live in big houses in Greenwich are upset that an even richer person wants to put up an even bigger house in their neighborhood – specifically one with almost three-quarters of an acre of floor space and 625,000 cubic feet of volume.

I’d never heard of a house being measured in cubic feet, but I guess it’s a good gauge of vastness and cavernousness: a 625,000-cubic-foot house must have some high ceilings.

I think what’s really galling the neighbors though is the realization of how hard it will be to keep up with the Joneses (irrelevant aside: did you know that the Joneses in the phrase 'keeping up with the Joneses' were Edith Wharton's family, on her mother's side?). The Greenwich Time reports:

Another concern for residents is that the mansion has far more floor space devoted to Turkish baths, Finnish baths and other amenities, than living space normally found in single-family homes, Lee said.

"A single-family doesn't need 26 toilets," he said. "Why are there 26 toilets there?"

The owner, by the way, is a woman named Olga Korgan. Here’s what her lawyer says:

"It's the way people who can afford it like to live," he said.

To me it raises other questions: how much energy does a 26-toilet, 625,000-cubic-foot house use? And isn’t it time for local communities to start changing zoning regulations to make sure houses have as small a carbon footprint as possible?

They already regulate how much paving you can have, how close to the wetlands you can build, how close to the street and neighboring properties you can build, how tall the house can be, etc. All those are more or less important, I guess. But if limiting the affects of climate change requires a million small actions to go along with a few big ones, energy efficiency in houses is a good place to start.

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Anonymous Bryan said...

Maybe local communities will (and have) taken the initiative to zone for energy use, but I suspect it will require some prodding from local environmental groups. Perhaps when Save the Sound and Citizens Campaign are finished negotiating their mutually-agreeable position on the Islander East pipeline, they can turn their attention to getting municipalities to adopt energy-based zoning regulations.

Unfortunately, if they only address new construction, they're not going to get much of an impact from residential construction, given the low number of new houses that are built on LI (compared to the existing housing stock). New office and retail buildings, on the other hand, are growing like weeds.

But, unless a new building is completely self-sufficient energy-wise, it's adding new load. So, wouldn't the logical approach be to cap the Island's existing energy consumption (at X GWh, Y MMBtu of natural gas and Z gallons of fuel oil), and allow new construction only to the extent that the developer has funded energy conservation or demand destruction to match the consumption of their new project?

2:13 PM  
Blogger Nan Patience said...

Yeah, it's hard to buy into the green movement when it only seems to apply to the masses. If global warming is a reality, and I'm beginning to think it really is, then there are going to have to be some egalitarian solutions, or we're all going down the toilet. As it stands, the modern environmental movement is elitist, snobbish and hysterical and funded by nimbies. Everyone's just jumping on the bandwagon to make a buck, save a buck, or to pretend they care.

3:52 PM  

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