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Green Homes As Status Symbol

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 25, 2007

If you want to know the degree to which “greenness” has become a status symbol, just take a look at this house being built not far from Pundit headquarters. CNN did a story pointing out that luxury home buyers now want environmentally friendly estates:

After 20 years of building multi-million-dollar mega-mansions, real estate developer Frank McKinney is betting $29 million that what luxury home buyers want now are environmentally friendly estates.

His speculative 15,000 square foot mansion in Manalapan, Fla., will be the first home of its size to be certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council

In addition to eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white), a movie theater and guesthouse, the house will also have a state-of-the-art air purification system and eco-friendly light fixtures that will reduce energy consumption by 90 percent.

Making this mansion green, probably tacked on additional costs of between 7 and 10 percent for McKinney and, ultimately, his buyer. It also required him to explore using different materials than he normally might.

For instance, instead of using a rare Brazilian cherry for the home’s hardwood floors, he’s using reclaimed teak — thus sparing 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest, he said.

The house will also have a massive solar panel system (price tag: $120,000), a water system that uses “gray water” from the showers and sinks to irrigate the lawn and gardens, as well as a series of pools, reflecting ponds and water gardens to cool down the 1.5 acre property by 2 to 3 degrees.

The house includes many “green” features:

Enough solar panels to cover a basketball court, generating enough energy to run the entire home on certain days, also generating enough electricity to run 2 average sized homes.

A water system that collects enough “gray” or runoff water to fill the average swimming pool every 14 days. The water is treated, then used to fill the water garden and irrigate the landscape.

Enough reclaimed and renewable wood to save 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest.

Renewable woods that regenerate every three years vs. every fifty years for other hardwoods

Enough pools, reflecting ponds, water gardens, misters, water walls, etc. to drop the site temperature by 2-3 degrees over neighboring properties, reducing cooling costs.

During construction over 340,000 pounds of debris and trash will be recycled, the equivalent of two super bowl’s worth of trash generated. Nearly 80% of all debris will be diverted from ever reaching a landfill.

Green light fixtures that cut down on lighting consumption by 90.

Air conditioning and purification systems that make air quality 2x cleaner than an operating room at the Mayo Clinic.

But as Robert Frank of The Wall Street Journal’s “Wealth Report” points out:

The 15,000 square-foot home (pictured here, photo courtesy of Mr. McKinney) has everything you’d expect from a fine beachfront estate inspired by the huts of Tahiti: swimable water gardens, water palapa, waterfall spa with fire feature, 24 foot interior water walls, exotic interior tropical hardwoods (coconut, bamboo, etc.), eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white) and marble garage.

But that’s not all! It’s also eco-friendly. McKinney says it will be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council. How does a 15,000-square-foot mansion become green?

Apparently with “enough solar panels to cover a basketball court, a water system that collects enough ‘gray’ or runoff water to fill the average swimming pool every 14 days and enough reclaimed and renewable wood to save 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest.”

That assumes of course that if they didn’t use reclaimed wood, they would use 7.5 acres of Brazilian exotics. And even with all the solar panels, I guarantee the home will use up more electricity than two or three average ranch houses combined.

Being green is commendable, and perhaps even urgently necessary. And we should be thankful for any steps that the wealthy make to shrink their carbon footprint. At the same time, if someone wants to build a 15,000 square-foot house, fine by me. The wealthy have the right to live large. They earned it.

Just don’t try to call it environmentalism.

Perfectly said.

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