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How to Green a McMansion? Tear It Down and Build Two Homes In Its Place

4/8/2011 1:19:44 PM

Tags: Reincarnated McMansion Project, suburban housing, greening the McMansion, Matthew Gallois, Naomi Stead, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailTear down one highly unsustainable McMansion and build two small green, handcrafted homes in its place? I like this idea a lot.

Bothered by Australia’s homogenous housing landscape, which is dominated by flimsy brick veneer and terracotta tile-roofed houses in every climate from the cold highlands area to the tropical north (much likein the Unted States), artist Matthew Gallois and a team of architects and experts have launched the Reincarnated McMansion Project to demonstrate alternatives to unsustainable housing models and draw attention to sustainability in existing housing. The Reincarnated McMansion Project wants to audit and dismantle “poorly built, mechanically cooled and heated” suburban homes, then use the materials to rebuild two green houses in their place.

“In our discussions with developers, urban planners, architects and home owners, the question of what to do with Australia’s vast car dependant suburbs, built during a short period of cheap energy and cheap raw materials (second half of the 20 century), has been asked time and again,” the project’s website states.

The Reincarnated McMansion project’s approach to suburban redevelopment discourages the practice of knocking down existing housing, down-cycling some materials and sending the majority to landfill, then rebuilding with all new materials. After quantifying the total embodied energy of an existing McMansion as well as the embodied energy of the rebuilt houses, the team will create a housing model that encourages sustainable lifestyle choices through passive environmental strategies.

“To be reborn as a better version of oneself–the project encapsulates a powerful symbolic metaphor,” its founders state. “The project thus seeks to transcend its quantitative, aesthetic and social goals, emphasizing a spiritual reading of the processes as an architectural, environmental and cultural cleansing.”

“The term ‘McMansion’ is clearly intended as a pejorative label, and there is much to be critical of here.,” says architecture critic Naomi Stead, a project partner. “Profligate in their use of material and energy not only in construction but over the whole life of the building, these dwellings are generally over-sized, poorly sited and oriented, lacking quality in materiality and space, and usually also located in outer-suburban situations so lacking in population density and basic services that they lock their owners in eternal servitude to the car.”

Knocking down big, poorly built houses and building smaller, more efficient homes offers homeowners many benefits, according to Reincarnated McMansion:

• Potential revenue income from the second dwelling.

• Reduce building footprints and internal volume by 40 percent to 70 percent per dwelling, increasing available usable land for outdoor living and garden space.

• Introduce natural ventilation strategies, passive winter solar gain, solar hot water and solar power, rainwater storage and grey water bio filtration.

• Increase building’s life cycle

• Reduce site’s carbon footprint, resulting in electricity and gas bill savings.

The team is currently seeking homeowners in Australia to participate in the project. I wish we could convince them to do a little recruiting over here.


Can this home be greened? Perhaps...if it were two homes.

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Sean(Builder Huddersfield)
4/20/2011 6:48:08 PM
I, for one am up for this two for one deal. This could save space and could house many tenants.

4/13/2011 4:06:56 PM
Cheaper to convert it to a duplex, triplex, or 4plex. I once lived in a 1910 mansion that had been converted to 2 down and one up. I loved it, had the entire upstairs with an exterior stairway in back.

Keith Karolyi
4/10/2011 11:25:58 PM
HUH?? I almost went into a long detailed analysis about why this would be financially ridiculous for an ordinary mortal like you or I to undertake. But in a nutshell it breaks down to this. You'd pay for a "McMansion" PLUS a controlled teardown (not cheap compared to regular demolition), PLUS two new sets of foundations and underground utilities for the two new houses (the most expensive part of any new construction) PLUS labor for the construction of the two new houses (also pricey since they'll need to refit existing materials cut for one job to another instead of the more time-efficient process of cutting new material to the job) PLUS new material for things that couldn't be salvaged (plaster, paint, mortar, concrete, etc.). End Result: Two smaller homes for the price greater than if you were to build a "McMansion" AND the two smaller homes in the first place. Not a deal many homeowners would sign up for.

Tim Snyder
4/9/2011 9:05:15 PM
Robyn, the 2 for 1 deal is truly a great idea. We need to train contractors in the craft of careful deconstruction, so that we can put two small, energy-efficient houses where one big energy hog used to be.

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