When my parents asked Laura and I to stay at their house in Cedar Hills and watch my younger siblings for a few days, we were excited. Finally, we thought, we could get out of our AC-free house and cool off with modern climate control. Unfortunately, we’ve been disappointed; my parents home actually gets hotter than ours (in Provo), and if we do choose to turn on the AC it requires massive amounts of energy just to cool it down to the mid 80s.
Cedar Hills—like so many recently constructed housing developments—is a disaster for many reasons, but probably one of the biggest is the community’s utter disregard for energy use.
One of the biggest problems with Cedar Hills is the design of its neighborhoods. For the most part, the small community is filled with McMansion style track homes. Aside from the fact that these homes are ugly and poorly constructed, they’re also spaced just far enough apart to miss out on the (numerous) advantages of being close together. For example, though they all have pathetically small yards, none of them actually shade each other (and obviously, because they don’t share any walls, heating and cooling from one home doesn’t benefit others). The flaws in this design are painfully apparent when compared to old communities in southern Europe and the Middle East. In that part of the world many towns have narrow lanes and closely spaced structures. This design didn’t arise because the builders hated privacy or wanted quaint towns for future tourists; rather, they knew that closely-spaced buildings shade each other, thereby making them all cooler. In the centuries before AC this was especially handy, but what’s even more amazing is that many of these buildings still stay cooler than a typical McMansion with its AC running at full blast. Narrow lanes also stay cooler in the summer (and dryer in the winter) than the moronically twisting streets and superfluous culs-de-sac common in American suburbs.
Related to the macro-community issues in Cedar Hills, each structure experiences an array of individual problems. For example, even if something was shading my parents’ home, its floor plan would still make cooling nearly impossible. The home has three floors and each one is always a drastically different temperature because there is almost no airflow. This means that to get the ground floor comfortable the basement ends up being cold but the upstairs is still too warm. If this problem was confined to my parents’ home it wouldn’t be much of an issue. Instead however, vast numbers of relatively new homes are inefficient energy hogs. In turn, they cost their owners more money and negatively impact the environment.
The American dream seems to include an almost obsessive drive to own a home. Unfortunately, this drive has produced communities with long-term energy consumption problems (in addition to simply being eyesores). Hopefully the contraction of the housing market will force developers to reconsider building cheap, environmentally unsound homes.