How Green Is My Uber-Mansion?

The New York governor’s mansion is pretty roomy.  It’s not quite Fontainebleau, but things don’t get cramped until the 4th story.  Plus it has a pool (thanks, FDR), tennis courts, and a memorabilia room.  (We come from Indiana, where the state has traditionally seen fit to provide a more modest accomodation for its chief executive.  The house heats itself!)

New York’s new Governor, Eliot Spitzer, along with his oddly-named wife, Slider Wazzle (we mighta got that name spelt wrong), are out to green the mansion

It’s not just a publicity stunt — it’s a really ambitious overhaul.  They’ll install solar panels and use hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions.   A switch to mulching and composting, as well as to a preference for locally-grown and organic food, will reduce the need for toxic chemicals and reduce greenhouse gases from cross-country transportation of food.  Energy-saving appliances and CFL bulbs will help reduce energy demand. 

The overall target: in one year, reduce energy use and greenhouse-gas generation by 50% each. 

We’re glad to see it.  It’s a bellwether for good things to come, but it’s also an unintentional indicator of some hurdles the green-living movement faces.

Pro’s and Con’s, after the jump!

Pro’s:

  • This is great way to publicize the fact that a lot of states will chip in a big chunk of the cost to make a house more efficient.  About 30% of what the Spitzers are doing will be paid for out of state funds available to any resident. 
  • It also publicizes the state’s ambition to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 15% between now and 2015.  “15 by 15” is a nice slogan, but it needed more publicity than a stack of flyers at the DMV.  This kind of publicity is important; lots of good incentive programs go unnoticed, and therefore go unused.
  • The First Lady (her name is actually Silda Wall Spitzer — our new intern looked it up) is a new state-level hero.  Arnold Schwartzenegger isn’t the stand-alone “Green Governor” anymore.

Con’s:

  • The cost.  This will be almost as expensive as a Super Sweet 16 party (okay, partly that’s because the Gov’s daughter wanted a big entrance, and insuring a grizzly is not cheap, people). 
  • No, really, the cost: greening this mansion will cost over $600k.  Even though the NY state programs will cover an impressive $200k of that, there’s still $400k+ in payouts to get this done.  With those numbers, nobody at all will be inspired to follow this example.  Our biggest worry: everyone who isn’t obscenely rich will see green-home renovation as out-of-reach — a hobby for the super-rich, like flying your own 707 or something.  Right now, the very wealthy have massive home redesigns, cool electric cars (real smooth, DiCaprio), and a host of other ironically-extravagant ways to “go green.”  The middle class has lightbulbs, the Prius, and organic apples that cost $3.50 a pound.  After this mansion is done, the next project should be helping a family of four make real changes without cashing out the college fund. 
  • In the end, the Spitzers run into Al Gore’s problem: how green can you really be in such a huge house?  Gore’s house has 20 rooms, and his bills are hefty enough; the NY executive mansion has 39 rooms.  Even cutting the electric bill by 50%, the energy use must be extremely high for a single-family home. 
  • The very size of the house is the biggest barrier to its being green.  As long as we hold out the huge house on a huge lot as the predominant image of achieving the American dream, we encourage a consumer expectation of a life that demands huge quantities of energy, exacerbates sprawl, and reduces walkability and independence from cars.  As it is now, McMansion square footage has become a bragging point among some buyers, and as they grow, the energy they demand quickly grows as well. 
  • Distance is another concern; it’s somewhat blind to build a “green” mansion so far out that it takes a gallon of gas to go buy a quart of milk.

Silda Wall’s greening effort is a great effort, and we applaud it.  But if we are to truly revolutionize energy use, we need to treat this effort as a starting point, not as a futuristic concept-house.  Designing a green living has as much to do with designing communities as designing homes.  Is anybody ready to lead by example there?

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One Response to How Green Is My Uber-Mansion?

  1. ClapSo says:

    First, it should be noted that FDR suffered from polio and the pool was installed to offer him some small relief from the symptoms. That said, as a native New Yorker, Spitzer is the first governor to bring the hope of sensible policy to our state house. I support everything our new governor has done so far, and have the greatest level of hope about our state government I have ever had in my 48 year lifetime.

    Your governor may have a more modest home, but our governor has the most ambitious agenda for positive change that I have ever seen in an elected official.

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