Paul Andersen: ‘Monster homes’ triple the carbon impacts |

Paul Andersen: ‘Monster homes’ triple the carbon impacts

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The Two Creeks lift at Snowmass passes over a gargantuan excavation where a new “home” is being built. The foundation spans multiple wings. The footprint foretells of the volumes of natural gas this monument to more … more … more will consume.

The pit into which all this material and money are being poured violates land-use sensibilities that might have tempered such ravenous appetites — if only such land-use regulations existed.

The Snowmass building site is an arrogant display of excess at a time when the threats of climate change demand the moral choices of property owners, architects, contractors and local governments working in concert to curtail them.

A report last week in The Aspen Times clarified that monster homes consume triple the energy use of a “normal” home, quoting a study conducted by Resource Engineering Group:

“The common expectation is that as a home increases in size, the energy used per square foot of home will decrease. Anecdotal evidence has previously shown the opposite. Indeed, hard evidence supplied by Holy Cross Energy and Black Hills Energy demonstrated the exact opposite.

“Energy use per square foot of home increases as the home size grows — by three times,” the study says. “Put another way, a 10,000-square-foot home doesn’t use 10 times more energy than a 1,000 square-foot home, but instead uses 30 times more energy.

“The study shows that energy use per square foot begins to rise more drastically once a house reaches 7,000 square feet.”

This exponential hike is due to luxury amenities such as expansive snowmelt systems, heated outdoor pools, elaborate spas, complex audio/visual systems and what the study referred to as “increased expectations of thermal comfort.” In other words — more heat in more forms.

How can the Roaring Fork Valley pretend to take climate change seriously when local governments allow monster homes to proliferate? Pitkin County has at least approached the topic with overtures to reduce the current allowable 15,000-square-foot home cap.

But what of Aspen and Snowmass? In both municipalities monster homes are part of the phenomenon of detachment from the real world by perpetuating the myths of inexhaustible resources and climate change denial.

These “homes” are not even “homes.” They are real estate investments, private hotels and gross status symbols. They are playpens for childlike owners who feel no responsibility for the choices they make on land for which uses are regulated by local governments.

These monsters sit empty much of the time, sucking down Big Gulps of energy and spewing tons of carbon. They exist in a vacuum where neither moral boundaries nor cautionary limits are in place to reduce the heights of conspicuous consumption and waste.

Owners of these obscenities evidently derive great satisfaction from leveraging outrageous fortunes against the future of the global community. How conveniently they disregard and reject voluntary limits to the frivolous gluttony of part-time pleasure palaces.

Architects and contractors must accept equal accountability for knowing that, for the sake of personal enrichment, they’re doing harm to the future. Instead, they conveniently deny what science is proving — that climate change is a factor of human agency — their agency in the monster homes they build.

Local governments must face up to the capping of home size, as Pitkin County has already announced. Otherwise, elected officials will cringe in retrospect for acknowledging that on their watch these approvals were given, that they could have done more to thwart climate change.

Capping home size achieves more than sustainability. Caps will advance the rare virtue of humility before complex natural systems that science is only beginning to understand. Where individual initiative is failing, legislated limits must enforce ethical behavior in an interconnected world that’s dependent on a healthy biosphere.

Watching a monster home under construction means bearing witness to entitlements that can no longer be tolerated. The fact that approvals for monster homes are still being granted is a sorry admission of self-destructive hubris — and it’s all about the money.

How will this be explained 20 years from now? How will these structures be viewed by our successors? Who will take responsibility for gutting the biosphere and saturating the atmosphere? Our children and grandchildren will want to know.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at