“McMansion” is a pejorative term used by critics to describe a multi-story house with no clear architectural style, and judged to be pretentious or poorly designed for its neighborhood. Among their major drawbacks, these homes are inherently energy-inefficient.
Along with the expanding size of American cars, meals, televisions and waistlines, houses have gotten much bigger over the years, as well. The average American home swelled from 983 square feet in 1950 to 1,500 square feet in 1970, and to 2,349 square feet in 2004, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Other countries have seen similar growth. The Australian government reports that the average size of a new house increased by 40% between 1984 and 2003, going from 162.2 square meters (approximately 1,745 square feet) to 227.6 square meters (approximately 2,450 square feet). And not only are the houses getting larger, but everything inside them is getting bigger, too. Multiple heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are becoming commonplace. And two- and three-zone heating systems are becoming a standard feature.
At the extreme end of this progression are the so-called "McMansions" -- also known as “Hummer Houses,” “Garage Mahals” and “starter castles” -- which exploded onto the real estate market during the housing boom of the 1990s. They tempt those with lesser means with the opportunity to live a life of glamorized opulence traditionally limited to the rich and famous. Years of record-low interest rates and aggressive marketing of upscale homes encouraged more people than ever before to stake their claim at a supersized version of the American Dream.
"McMansions" emphasize interior space. Typically, they have a floor area over 4,000 square feet (280 m2), ceilings 9 to 10 feet high, a two-story portico, huge staircases, two or more garages with oversized doors, room-sized walk-in closets, and a family room with a vaulted ceiling. Not uncommon is a front door hall with a chandelier hanging down 16 to 20 feet, an enormous master bedroom, and a spacious kitchen with a center island.
These homes are inherently wasteful, however, as they require a tremendous amount of raw materials to construct and extra energy to keep them running. The "McMansion" thus seems starkly out of place in an era when homeowners are seeking to reduce their energy expenditure and using myriad tactics to meet this goal, from greenscaping and solar gardens, to hiring InterNACHI energy auditors.
Specifically, "McMansions" pose the following environmental risks: