Live the good life in a green mansion

As demand grows, multimillion-dollar mansions that are both indulgent and eco-friendly emerge.

By Jessica Dickler, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- After 20 years of building multimillion-dollar mega-mansions, real estate developer Frank McKinney is betting $29 million that what luxury home buyers want now are environmentally-friendly estates.

His speculative 15,000 square foot mansion in Manalapan, Fla., will be the first home of its size to be certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Council.

This $29 million speculative mansion in Manalapan, Fla., will be the first home of its size to be certified green.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based LivingHomes produces a line of homes featuring modern design and green materials.

In addition to eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, two elevators, two laundry rooms, two wine cellars (one for red, one white), a movie theater and guesthouse, the house will also have a state-of-the-art air purification system and eco-friendly light fixtures that will reduce energy consumption by 90 percent.

Making this mansion green probably tacked on additional costs of between 7 and 10 percent for McKinney and, ultimately, his buyer. It also required him to explore using different materials than he normally might.

For instance, instead of using a rare Brazilian cherry for the home's hardwood floors, he's using reclaimed teak - thus sparing 7.5 acres of Brazilian rain forest, he said.

The house will also have a massive solar panel system (price tag: $120,000), a water system that uses "gray water" from the showers and sinks to irrigate the lawn and gardens, as well as a series of pools, reflecting ponds and water gardens to cool down the 1.5 acre property by 2 to 3 degrees.

The $29 million home is slated to be completed by January 2009 and like a field of dreams, McKinney hopes that once the mansion is finished, buyers will emerge.

It's a remarkable leap of faith, but that's just the way McKinney is accustomed to doing business. He's currently building several estates on spec, all of which are in various states of development, and range in price from $13 million to $135 million. He recently sold one of his developments, located in Palm Beach, Florida, for about $50 million.

Webb Sherrill, a broker with Sotheby's International Realty, is currently listing a green mansion with solar heating and organic gardens in Angel Fire, New Mexico, for $3.4 million.

Webb said the demand for eco-friendly homes is growing but is still somewhat limited to geographical pockets in the U.S. where environmental consciousness is elevated.

One of those areas is Santa Monica, Calif., where development firm LivingHomes is venturing into the marketplace for self-sustaining houses.

LivingHomes have no energy, water, waste or carbon emissions but still manage to incorporate top-of-the-line Bosch appliances and other high-end finishings.

Clients can customize their floorplans, layouts and finishes with options, such as kitchen counters made of recycled newsprint and renewable cork floors. Buyers are first and foremost interested in high design, according to LivingHomes CEO Steve Glenn but often become very enthusiastic about the environmental program, spending even more to incorporate more eco-friendly elements.

"There is much greater public awareness of sustainable design," Glenn said. "We have over a dozen projects in various stages of development and that seems to be accelerating."

The company currently offers two varieties of LEED-certified modular homes, which cost approximately $500,000 to $750,000 or $215 to $300 per square foot, not including design fees, installation or the foundation.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a certification issued by the U.S. Green Building Council that could qualify home builders and owners for tax breaks or expedited permitting, although the incentives differ by city and state.

"Consumers are increasingly making purchase decisions based on environmental considerations and health considerations, and more municipalities are rewarding builders who build this way or penalizing builders who don't," Glenn said.

Currently there are 251 homes that are LEED-certified by the USGBC, but there are 7,700 projects in the pipeline, according to Michelle Moore, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group.

The trend towards eco-friendly residential construction is "emerging very rapidly," noted Moore. "Homebuilders expect this is a trend that will rapidly become mainstream."

But getting certified isn't easy. The USGBC measures the performance of a house on a point scale in six categories, including where the house is located (whether it takes advantage of the position of the sun or is near mass transit), whether it employs bio-based and recycled materials, its indoor air quality, as well as its water and energy efficiency.

The USGBC also factors in the overall size of the house. So the bigger a home is, the more points must be earned to score one of the USGBC's four levels of achievement - certified, silver, gold and platinum.

So for mansions, balancing a low-environmental impact with a colossal construction is particularly difficult.

"Larger homes have to achieve more," Moore said. Top of page