the mcmansions strike back

Well, it looks like I wasn’t the only one who took note of the “McMansion” provision Dingell floated yesterday at the town hall meeting on global warming. The Guidobono brothers, builders of what they call “luxury estate homes,” just issued a press release. Here’s a clip:

Longtime builders of country estates in Oakland County say U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, is ill informed and misguided in his call to eliminate mortgage tax deductions on homes larger than 3,000 square feet.

At an August 7th town hall meeting in Ann Arbor, in an effort to combat global warming, Dingell called for a 50-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline and elimination of mortgage tax deductions on what he called “McMansions.” Dingell plans to introduce the measures September 1.

The proposal raises strenuous objections from Eric and Mark Guidobono, custom homebuilders of Tuscany Reserve estate homes in Novi and Bellagio estate homes in Northville.

“Where is all of this going to end?” asks Eric Guidobono, President of Guidobono Building. “People in large homes already pay big property taxes and are taxed to the max now. Eliminating a tax break that all homeowners get just because your home is larger is a very bad idea that needs to be stopped now!”

Mark Guidobono, President of Cambridge Companies, adds: “The truth is that larger homes being built today are far more energy efficient than the ranches of the ’50s and colonials of the ’70s. Does Mr. Dingell really intend to punish owners of high-energy efficient homes?”…

And, while I appreciate their attempt to spin this, I think it’s kind of silly to suggest that Dingell is doing this to “punish owners of energy efficient homes.” If that were his goal, the legislation would remove the mortgage tax deduction on small homes with solar panels. That’s not what he’s doing though. This isn’t about energy efficiency. This is about making those who squander resources pay the price for their stupidity. This is about changing consumer behavior in order to save the planet.

You could have the most energy efficient 4,000 square foot home in the United States. It’s still going to use more energy than the average 1,000 square foot home built in 1940. To begin with, I bet most of these “estate homes” have two furnaces and two air conditioning units. And, running two air conditioning units, I’m guessing, probably cancels out any benefit you might have seen from the energy efficient Pella windows you’ve got in your master bedroom kitchenette, or whatever.

I just did some poking around and Tuscany Reserve, their gated community in Novi, when completed, will have 58 “estates.” These “luxury estate homes” (read “McMansions”) will start at 4,000 square feet and cost upward of $800,000 each… On a side note, it’s been a few years since I was actually in Tuscany, but I don’t think the single-family homes there started at 4,000 square feet.

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  1. egpenet
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    You’re right, Mark! Here! Here!

    (Of course, when Al Gore is asked about his humungous Nashville estate’s energy issues, he says he pays for energy credits and it comes out even. Hmmmm.)

    I say, tax all vehicles with GVWs over 3,000#, all homes over 3,000sq.ft. and give any local high school graduate who can spell “three thousand” a $300 scholarship to WCC.

  2. egpenet
    Posted August 8, 2007 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and charge a $3000 license fee to be a hooker in the city, plus a monthly blood test requirement.

  3. egpenet
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Actually, regarding prostitution, I’d like to see prostitution made illegal in the Historic District, which is downtown and most of the neighborhoods immediately east and west of the river, and on the south side from the river, virtually to Adams with a jog to Hamilton. That might improve the scenery a bit.

    C’mon Council! You can do it! Mayor Paul, get on it. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation say nothing about “hooking,” however. The furthest back I can go is The Scarlet Letter, which I take as an “A” for effort. And our for-Fathers were not too shy about willy-nilly behavior-and-all. HOWEVER …

    Let’s draw a line and stick to it! Amen, brother!

    Let’s ban the practice and be done with it in at least 1/3 of the city once and for all.

  4. UBU
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Houses just look better in a McDonald’s wrapper…

  5. frenchfries
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    One thing about dual AC and furnaces: it can allow you to selectively heat or cool parts of the house that you may not always use. We actually have this in a historic house in Ypsi and it seems to work–we have the AC off on the part that we rarely use all summer. The house is a little bigger than we really need right now, but we can’t make it smaller, and someday we are hoping to have a kid! Of course, we could always move to Ann Arbor to a smaller house for the same price–nice plan for the future of Ypsi.

    Also, to inject a little science here: heat retention and loss is not only a function of the floor-plan area of a house. Fundamentally, it is dictated by the surface area to volume ratio. So the number of floors will affect this ratio given a certain floor plan area. A simple model of a house with a square floor plan, 5 sides facing the air (ignoring the ground), gives a surface area to volume ratio of

    ratio = 5 sqrt(s/f)

    where s is the number of stories, and f is the floor plan area (and sqrt means “square-root”). Comparing a three story to a two story with identical floor plan area shows a different surface area to volume ratio: in this model it is sqrt(3/2) or in numbers, 1.22. So a three-story will have 22% more surface area to volume ratio for the same square footage. A 2-story will have sqrt(2) more surface area to volume ratio than a 1-story, that’s a factor of 1.44 or equivalently 44%! Whatever the details of actual heat transfer this simple model shows that a law based on floor plan area alone (or whatever architects call it) cannot work since it does not uniquely determine the energy consumption needed to heat and cool the house. Is the house in the shade? On a south-facing hill? Near a lake? How many windows, are they triple paned? Etc.

    Attacking the mortgage deduction seems like it could have consequences that are not obvious. The mortgage deduction incentivizes having mortgages. No mortgage deduction only penalizes those who must take mortgages, and rich people can just buy their houses in cash. Like most simplistic taxes, it seems to be attacking the wrong people. Why not add a tax on electricity and gas usage? You could even make it nonlinear, with higher rates for excessive use. That way you incentivize higher efficiency while penalizing both the middle-class who have mortgages and the rich who might not, thus removing the cash-purchase loophole. Unless you would propose that the fuel pump asks you for your salary, a flat gas tax will disproportionately affect lower income people (and rural people who have no options for alternative transportation). We need to tax fuel inefficient cars to incentivize fuel efficiency, but only new ones since poorer people may tend to have older, less fuel-efficient cars.

    I had a visitor from the UK this week comment that he found it funny that I was so proud of my 50 mpg Prius. His minivan gets 40 mpg. That’s what 1 British pound per liter does (equivalent to $7.60/gal). We all buy the same oil, so the difference is taxes.

    We must do something, but I think the burden should not be borne disproportionately by the poor. Also, we can’t ignore basic principles of science and architecture in linking a house’s floor plan to its energy consumption.

  6. frenchfries
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    On my way-too-serious post, I had a typo, the square-root of 2 is not 1.44, it’s 1.414, still a 41.4% increase.

    You guys seem mostly concerned with hookers. Do we make exceptions for grow-ops? Could be good for the local economy.

  7. Steve
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    When you find me a poor person living in a 3,000 square foot single-family home, I’ll switch to your side, FF. Until then, this sounds pretty fair to me.

    It reminds me of how the Republicans used to always talk about the “death tax” (inheritance tax) and how it would “destroy family farms”. Of course, no one could ever find an example of it having happened.

    Still, I think you are making a valid point on efficiency.

  8. Posted August 9, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    A 4,000sf modern house built in 2006 for a family of 4 could easily be more energy efficient than a 1,000sf house built in the 20’s for a family of 7. But the difference is that the 1920’s house is still standing 80+ years later. The blown-on stucco/paper fa├žade of the modern home tends to melt after blowover from the 3rd weed-n-feed spraying. (Also, I could kick through the exterior walls of a new house while saying “I quit” to local contractors).

    Building new houses takes resources and forces the unnecessary creation of toxic materials, when there are perfectly good, sturdy, older homes waiting for buyers in every town. Renovation can get them almost as efficient.

    Michigan’s housing industry is totaly fucked (with the rest of the nation not far behind, as I see it from the inside). With the growth of the “select few” (economic rapists) emigrating to Gated Richistans around us, McMansions are builders’ only hope. They will cling to it with gallons and gallons of toxic construction adhesive.

    (All this applies to cars as well: keeping a well-maintained old car until it is dead is more “Earth friendly” than ditching it – even for a new hybrid, with its resource-tapping production and disposal cost.)

  9. egpenet
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Older homes “breathe” quite literally and used construction methods that, while more complex, resulted in stronger and more liveable … brick or frame.

    The new houses aree lighter in construction thanks to composite beams and thee above- mentioned adhesives. Thhey are air tight, usually, and do NOTT “breathe” … andd thereefore are intrinsically toxic … retaining all of the carpet, furnishings and construction gases inside, not to mention CO, paint fumes, and fumes from little Timmy’s huffing habits.

  10. edweird
    Posted August 9, 2007 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Leighton for affirming my reasons for buying my 1958 ranch and replacing the original furnace with something more efficient immediately upon purchase.

  11. paulg
    Posted August 11, 2007 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Nice analysis, frenchfries. You can also reduce that big constant factor of 5 by choosing alternative housing, such an apartment or condo, where one or more of the sides is insulated by adjacent units. (Looked at in terms of the whole building, the ratio is reduced by the very large total floorplan area in relation to the number of stories).

    My current place has a factor of 3 and I definitely notice it. When I lived in a house it was always a broiling inferno in the summer, but the current place stays temperate year round and I’ve never felt the need for air conditioning. I only need heat about 3 months out of the year, and if I was hardier I wouldn’t need that either (I’m in Northern California and we consider 50 degrees cold here).

    The ideal place would be entirely underground, reducing the factor to 0. That agrees with what I’ve read- one you get a few stories underground, the temperature stays constant (and temperate) year round regardless of surface temperatures.

    Of course most people don’t want to live like moles so such housing is never built (I’d probably go for it though), and apartments and condos are considered downmarket; American-dream attitudes and expectations cause one to desire the most wasteful structure possible.

  12. Posted August 13, 2007 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I see that this is the new iteration of global warming skepticism. Now, John Dingell has authored “put up or shut up” legislation meant to deal with all of us wealthy liberals who park our three Priuses in our four-car garages, and dine in summer comfort in our walk-in refrigerators.

    Channeling Roy at alicublog, why don’t they mock our beaten up Toyota Tercels, why don’t they attack us for living in one-bedroom apartments, why don’t they insult the window plastic we put up every winter to keep our electricity bills down?

  13. egpenet
    Posted August 13, 2007 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Dingell has become a weathly liberal snob onour tax money and donor financing over all these years. Don’t fool yourself. “Follow the money,” he a Washington proverb he’s learned well.

    And, yes. This kill-or-be-killed battle between two liberals (Dingell v. Pelosi) is killing any real effort from the car companies over the next ten years to fight the effects of global climate change.

    Moreover, it IS helping save his constituency who are the Union Leadership and all the Repuiblicans in Michigan who have barricaded themselves inside the GM headquarters at the RenCen and/or the Glass House in Dearborn, and have refused to play since DevOss lost and the Democrats went after big oil and the car companies.

    Worse yet, Dingell is blaming US, you and me. We buy the wrong stuff! So, it’s all our fault! (Know what? He’s right about that.)

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