Thursday, January 10, 2008

New or Old?

Which is more eco-conscious, a new house or an older one? The experts seem to be divided, which can be confusing to those of us who are in the market for a home.

My initial choice would be an older home. Older homes obviously do not need new materials to be built. They tend to be made with natural ingredients (wood!), which are favored by the green community. Also, they don't require as much new furniture. Old stuff looks good in old houses! You just wipe it with linseed oil and call it an antique.

They also tend to be smaller. There is a vast gap in perceived space needs now and fifty or more years ago. A small three bedroom/one bath home of 1000 square feet was considered more than enough for a large family until recently. A smaller home means less electric, less climate control, and less space used per family, all conscientious choices.

On the other hand, newer homes can be more energy conscious if they have features such as geo-thermal heating, double paned windows, and some of the better types of insulation. They don't need remodeling (does any home truly need remodeling? Or is that another perceived need?). There are no worries about lead and asbestos. You know exactly what you getting.

It's a tie... almost. The clincher for me is quality of materials and workmanship. I don't think most new homes are made for the long haul. I once spoke to a builder of luxury homes in California who bragged that he could read a newspaper through the carpet he had installed in his two-million-dollar-plus McMansions. Every aspect of construction was farmed out to the lowest bidder. The result was huge, sparkling, impressive houses that would need to be torn down and completely replaced in just a few decades. The stick-built Victorians and Craftsman style homes may be small and shabby compared to new ones, but they'll be their small, shabby selves when the others are piles of rubble in your local landfill.

Tomorrow I am going to check out a small older home. Wish me luck!