Saturday, March 31, 2007

A tale of two houses

HOUSE # 1:

A 20-room mansion (not including 8 bathrooms) heated by natural gas. Add on a pool (and a pool house) and a separate guest house all heated by gas. In ONE MONTH ALONE this mansion consumes more energy than the average American household in an ENTIRE YEAR. The average bill for electricity and natural gas runs over $2,400.00 per month. In natural gas alone (which last time we checked was a fossil fuel), this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home. This house is not in a northern or Midwestern "snow belt," either. It's in the South.

HOUSE # 2:

Designed by an architecture professor at a leading national university, this house incorporates every "green" feature current home construction can provide. The house contains only 4,000 square feet (4 bedrooms) and is nestled on arid high prairie in the American southwest. A central closet in the house holds geothermal heat pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the ground. The water (usually 67 degrees F.) heats the house in winter and cools it in summer. The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas, and it consumes 25% of the electricity required for a conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected and funneled into a 25,000 gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land surrounding the house. Flowers and shrubs native to the area blend the property into the surrounding rural landscape.

HOUSE # 1 (20 room energy guzzling mansion) is outside of Nashville, Tennessee. It is the abode of that renowned environmentalist (and filmmaker) Al Gore.

HOUSE # 2 (model eco-friendly house) is on a ranch near Crawford, Texas. Also known as "the Texas White House," it is the private residence of the President of the United States, George W. Bush.

So whose house is gentler on the environment? Yet another story you WON'T hear on CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC or read about in the New York Times or the Washington Post. Indeed, for Mr. Gore, it's truly "an inconvenient truth."
Origins: This e-mail comparison between the homes of President George W. Bush and former vice-president Al Gore began circulating on the Internet in March 2007 (shortly after the latter's film on the global warming issue, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Academy Award as Best Documentary). Short and sweet, there's a fair bit of truth to the e-mail: Al Gore's Nashville mansion is something of the energy-gobbler the e-mail depicts, while President Bush's Crawford ranch is more the model of responsible resource use the juxtaposition portrays it to be.

According to the Associated Press, the Gore's 10,000 square foot Belle Meade residence consumes electricity at a rate of about 12 times the average for a typical house in Nashville (191,000 kwh versus 15,600 kwh). While there are mitigating factors (further discussed in our article about the Gore household's energy use), this is still a surprising number, given that the residence is approximately four times the size of the average new American home.

The ranch home owned by George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas, (dubbed "the Texas White House") was designed by Austin architect David Heymann, an associate dean for undergraduate programs at the University of Texas School of Architecture. While its precise size isn't known, scuttlebutt has it that it's about 4,000 square feet, all on one floor.

The ranch utilizes an efficient geothermal heating and cooling system that pumps ground water through a heat exchanger to warm the house in the winter and cool it in the summer, a system that expends roughly one-quarter the energy of a conventional heater/air-conditioner. Water used by the house is reclaimed, treated, and reused, and rainwater funnels from the home's gutters into a large cistern, which holds the water for garden irrigation.

Last updated: 28 March 2007

Sources:
Hall, Kristin. "Conservative Group Says Gore's Home Overuses Electricity."

Associated Press Worldstream. 28 February 2007.

van Ryzin, Jeanne Claire. "The House That Bush Built."
Austin American-Statesman. 18 January 2001 (p. G1).

Walker, Pat. "Bush Ranch Home Takes Shape."
Austin American-Statesman. 3 January 2000 (p. B1).

Contributed by CubanBillFish, our own mad rocket scientist!