Donal's picture

    Livin' Large

    With my plantar muscles feeling better, I've been running a two mile route past a few apartment complexes and through a new development of 3,000 SF single family houses—perhaps 300 of them. A sign indicates that they sell in the $500,000s, but asking prices actually range from $544,990 to $619,990. There are no full-grown trees yet, but down in the hollows are hundreds of saplings tied to stakes and protected from deer with plastic netting. Once grown they should buffer the community from the main thoroughfare. There are a few more houses complete every time I run through, a few more families settled in, a few more kids riding bikes and scooters on the sidewalks. One owner has added, or opted for, a full complement of photovoltaic panels on his South-facing roof.

    Back at home I read articles like Real Homes: Small, frugal, and green, in which, "Recent college graduate Ella Jenkins lives with her parents while she builds her 103-square-foot home in their yard."

    The average size of a new house peaked in 2007 and has gone down since. But so far that only replicates what happened during past recessions—although the decrease is larger this time. The question is whether we return to the pattern of ever-increasing house size if the current recession ends for everyone, not just the rich.

    The people I run past do not look rich, but they don't seem bothered by the recession. Many little girls are wearing the white shirts and tartan skirts of a nearby private school. Driveways feature as many late model SUVs as Accords or Priuses.

    With 5 million houses in foreclosure, we are rediscovering that living sustainably includes living affordably. ... Small is beautiful.

    It’s not a deep concept. Smaller houses cost less to build. It takes less furniture to fill them. They cost less to heat and cool. ... Jason McLennan, who developed the Living Building Challenge, proposes that, regardless of “green” features, large houses simply cannot be environmentally sound. He says that, on average, 450 square feet per person is as big as we should go-—and smaller is better.

    You'd have to put six or seven people into each of these houses to reach that goal. A lot of blogs and MSM articles have been advising us that people just can't afford McMansions any more, but as with automobiles, people do buy larger when times are good. Amidst a sluggish economy, NE Baltimore is comparatively prosperous, but for how long?

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Big Homes Are Back in Business:

    Jamie and Ashley Mengle spent the past four years in a 1,920-square-foot, three-bedroom town house. In July, they will upgrade to a 3,200-square-foot single-family home with four bedrooms here in this suburb of Harrisburg.

    The Mengles are at the forefront of a surprising trend in a number of new subdivisions across the nation: Bigger homes are making a comeback.

    "There's no doubt we're a lot larger than we were a few years ago," said Steve Ruffner, president of the Southern California division of KB Home, one of the nation's largest builders.

    KB Home says the average square footage of houses currently under contract is 2,079, an increase of 13% from last year. And more KB buyers are picking models that exceed 3,500 square feet.

    And in The Low-Emissions Estate, the Journal profiles an otherwise socially-conscious house that averages over one thousand SF per bedroom:

    Set in an upscale suburban neighborhood around a country club, their 6,800-square-foot, five-bedroom, six-bathroom home is visually dramatic. From the street, visitors see two large walls of stacked stone, with a curved wall of wood-framed windows slung between them.

    The couple declined to say how much they paid to build the home. Their architect said the project, completed in 2009, cost roughly $500 a square foot, or about $3.4 million.

    The new owners and their families seem happy in their new digs, but it's becoming clear that building more and more large houses is too demanding for the environment as well as too financially risky for many owners. Where I wonder, are the market forces that will encourage people to buy the smaller footprint houses that we can afford? Do we need CAFE ratings for houses?

    To change the subject a bit, the Detroit News reports that Mitt Romney is making noises about bypassing CAFE:

    On another issue, Romney said he would reconsider what Obama has called one of his key domestic achievements: nearly doubling fuel-efficiency requirements to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

    The Obama administration won the support of most automakers — including Detroit's Big Three — for the 2017-2025 rules that will cost the industry $157.3 billion and add about $2,000 to the price of an average car. But it will save drivers $1.7 trillion at the pump.

    Romney said he'd seek "a better way of encouraging fuel economy" than corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) mileage requirements "as the sole or primary vehicle," he said.

    "The best approach is to try and build vehicles that people want, rather than having the government telling the companies what they must make," he said.


    I like the Tiny House blog.  

    It quite often has some interesting posts on how people a living in small spaces.

    I have little to add here.

    Just getting back to my own experiences and my previous blog last September.

    I began my middle class life in a 850 sq ft home for two small children

    I ended up with two homes of 3200 sq ft and 3300 sq the 1980's.

    The extra room provided two living rooms and three (3) bathrooms along with six bedrooms?

    Then there is the issue of yards and yardage.

    Amazing how the middle class has been upstreamed?

    I think I recall as a child of two alcoholic idiots, moving from 600 sq ft homes with many siblings along with the old ice box and radios.

    I can understand and I have heard the attack by my generation concerning aspirations.

    I mean by 1960 most citizens of any country treasured any attempt at running water and toilets.

    I see Cantor (the true satonic presence) and Boner and McConnell attempting to rationalize this all.

    The point being that there are a hundred million folks in this country who really do not have access to running water to drink or to use for toilet purposes.

    Not on a regular basis.

    The same third do not really have access to the Web or cable tv or any other relevant source of info.

    I was struck by this bastard from FOX who went out of his way to write a book about how many folks standing in a line for free food were the recipients of basic TV and had a phone.

    There is something happening here and we really do not know what it is!

    There is a war being raged by ten dollar an hour workers and an imaginary class of poor people who really have access to nothing.

    The repubs are simply implying that those working for salaries that are relatively low must attack the 'unwashed' for their unearned nothingness.

    I am just venting.

    the end


    What good is "building vehicles people want" if automakers are unresponsive to consumer requests?

    Did the average American "want" a $40,000 Volt? No, the average American cannot afford a Volt. What they want is a safe, decent sized car that is economical to run and maintain. If it's an electric one, great. Or a hybrid or a battery run. Or even a high MPG combustible. All great.

    There are vehicles being produced now that address current consumer "wants", but would they have been if the CAFE policies had not been put in place? I doubt it. Because automakers seem to be clueless when it comes to average Americans.

    Romney's statement reflects clueless-ness as well, which is surprising coming from a guy who had a dad that ran a car company. But then, George ran that company in the 50's and 60's--back when the middle class was solidly strong and not debilitated and fractured as it is now; when a factory worker who "wanted" to drive a new Buick instead of a rusted out Chevy could do so because their wages hadn't been cut by union concessions. Maybe Mitt is a tad out of touch with the general populace.

    Has the definition of an average American changed that much? That a half million dollar house with an SUV in the garage and private school is the norm?

    Is this a societal shift that separates us further by virtue of our incomes? My house is bigger than your house. Nyah, nyah, nyah. Is that more important than environmental responsibility?

    Maybe I've been living out in the boonies for too long.

    CAFE-like standards might be in the future for housing as building resources continue to dwindle. Trees only grow so fast.

    But, I have my doubts those with lots of money will be affected much. There will probably be some kind of cap-and-trade scheme built into any policy that will allow the well-off to buy square-footage from the poor. Hey, if 450 sq.ft. is all a person "needs" why not sell half a closet to the rich guy across town who "wants" the space?

    I'm sure the lawmakers will make room for their big-money donors. (Pun intended.)

    +1 good comment

    As an analogy to Romney, I must have preferred a 1993 PC to a 2012 iPhone because that's what I bought at the time. Not only can't conservatives conserve these days, they can't seem to plan for the future, nor see past the nose on their face. how did the transcontinental railroad get built, or the electric grid? People obviously only want what they already have.

    No vision.

    About anything.

    Conservatives, I mean.



    The house you pictured has the worst garage entrance I have ever seen.

    hahahahaha....I didn't even notice that! yes

    Keep looking, I spot three more things equally weird.

    1. The front facade has no depth except for some odd shack in the back.

    2. The driveway-to-be is not lined up with the garage that is not.

    3. I think I saw this scene in the movie Poltergeist.

    Yep... Native American burial ground.

    You spotted the other two that see. I lied about seeing three just to mess around. I expect that the explanation is that the picture was distorted by the use of a wide angle telescopic lens. Maybe though it is just a false front for a [shallow] Hollywood movie.

    I think it is a movie set. But in the spirit of argument, I will note that Poltergeist is not only a shallow Hollywood movie, it is an important film that explores the three dominant features of our society:

    Demonic possession through media devices.

    We do stupid things while standing in front of mirrors.

    A lot of suburbs have ridiculously short stretches of sidewalks.

    As a New Yorker, I certainly live with less than 450 square feet per person.  And, as a kid raised out in the country, I was used to far more.  The adjustment is easy, if you have the lifestyle you want.  I would not be as happy with my New York space were it located in my old home town, which was neither as vibrant nor walkable as where I live now.

    Ultimately, we need to provide for what people want.  If most people want more space, I'm more than convinced that, given the size of our collective GDP and their legitimate share of it, that they should have it.

    Just out of curiosity, what is my legitimate share of the collective GDP? Would it be enough to buy Ma that operation she needs wants? smiley

    Having what you want is fine. Wanting for wanting's sake comes with obligations, though. Just like money, freedoms do not grow on trees.

    I've missed ya, flowerchild.

    I think, for sure, that your share of a 15 trillion GDP (and growing) should darned well cover operations that people need.

    As for wants... I think that most people are a lot more reasonable than we give them credit for.  And, from my standpoint, Americans work very hard.  We put in the longest hours in the world, when our economy works close to fill capacity.  When it doesn't, people are still willing to work, it just isn't available for them.

    I think most people are reasonable human beings as well. It's the latent sociopathic who walk among us that scare the crap out of me.

    Speaking of large (much larger): Shard-en freude

    (Some New Yorkers might say: meh, don't get so worked up abbodit, we've had of which you speak in Manhattan like fuhever, furriners and buildings come and go and we're still here--also too beware some terrorists don't knock it down lest it become belatedly beloved--speaking of which, we're experimenting with the opposite, a basically invisible skyscraper)

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