Christine Olsen's "mini-mansion" in Bellingham, Washington.


From my 800-square-foot dwelling in the northwest corner of Washington State, I am feeling compelled to write a response to the McMansion owner whose letter was printed in your Mailbox section in HP121. I think that, contrary to his belief, the writer should feel guilty about his McMansion. Living in Southern California does probably enable the local inhabitants to spend less on energy per square foot of living space, but many other factors exist that cannot be ignored.

First, there are many square feet in a McShelter. Consider the energy of lighting and other electrical loads in all those rooms, and the embodied energy of all the excess materials used to build and maintain these gargantuan abodes.

Also, although the writer is surrounded by nice, warm (albeit polluted) air, there is a dearth of water. If the Colorado River is sucked dry by rich northerners to water their large-home lawns, it will not reach those who need it farther south. Some brief information on water rights in California can be found at www.

McMansions are by definition too-big houses on too-big lots. This leads to a dependency on cars and a loss of neighborly interaction, which people as social beings depend on. When large houses take over rural landscapes, farmers are pushed out of this sun-soaked land due to the high price of owning and leasing land.

Rather than spending money on his huge home, wouldn't it be better for the author to spend this excess income on real groups that work for positive environmental change? It may seem like a less-obvious gesture than donning a thick winter coat when the snow is falling, but he could also sell that SUV and turn the pool into a skate ramp.

Christine Olsen • Bellingham, Washington

Small is Beautiful

I really liked the articles on small-sized solar homes in the February/March issue. It was great seeing a family spending their hard-earned money on principled improvements instead of more square feet of house. I realize that the Solar Decathlon home competition was a demonstration of new ideas, and the home size was more a circumstance, but it still shows how much can be done in a small footprint. A previous article on Larry Schlussler's bungalow ("Extreme Efficiency—How Low Can You Go?" HP112) was also a hit for me—very aesthetic, functional, and unimposing.

I've seen questions in Home Power asking how families with a modest income can possibly afford renewable energy systems. In addition to all the ideas given by Home Power, I would add that, if a family settled for half the square footage of house, they could buy an RE system with the savings. This smaller home could get by on a dramatically smaller system to heat, cool, and power it. Case in point is the relatively small (by American standards) solar-electric system recently profiled ("Bringing Solar Home: Small Changes, Big Results" HP123) that provides a comfortable 600-square-foot home with electricity to spare. They even ended up getting heated towel racks to utilize some of the extra solar energy!

There is an old backpacking principle—take only pictures, leave only footprints. When choosing a home, I would encourage people, especially people of modest means, to use this thought to counter the "big is beautiful" mantra. Live simply and leave as little of a footprint behind as possible.

Finally, I'm enclosing a page from a 1977 issue of National Geographic (pictured below). 54 mpg! 30 years ago. Today's engineers boast of 45 mpg with hybrids. What's wrong with this picture?

Cliff Millsapps • Garry, South Dakota

Here at Home Power, we all think small is pretty beautiful too. We just did some quick math and calculated the average home size for the fifteen households of the Home Power crew: 918 square feet. The winner? Our executive editor and CEO Joe Schwartz—his cabin is all of 216 square feet.

An ad in a 1977 issue of National Geographic points to today's reality: More than thirty years later, we still have miles to go in terms of achieving better vehicle fuel economy.

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