Save the planet and live in splendor? The idea of a “green” luxury home may seem paradoxical, but the eco-conscious wealthy are increasingly building big houses with tiny carbon footprints.

In 2012, for example, Walmart heir Christy Walton built a 5,600-square-foot home across the street from the beach in Encinitas, Calif., that was “LEED Platinum certified”—the top rating for energy and resource efficiency given by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The residence features solar panels, ultra-high-efficiency gas furnaces and tankless water heaters that heat and disperse water on demand, rather than using energy to store hot water while waiting for users to turn on faucets or showers.

Yet for the affluent, there’s more to living in an eco-friendly home than just supporting sustainability. “Living in a green home provides a greater level of luxury,” says Rich Williams, president of ArtHaus, a San Diego-based residential development company that specializes in high-end, sustainable homes.

“In addition to the altruistic aspects, there are direct benefits to the occupants, like thermal and acoustic comfort, health and safety and well-being,” he says.
In the past five years, Williams has seen noticeable growth in interest in green building among both the affluent and the less affluent, but for different reasons. Resource efficiency is a top priority with mainstream consumers because gas, electric and water bills represent a higher proportion of their incomes.

For those with high incomes, health concerns play a larger role. Indoor air quality is “vitally important” to the wealthy, Williams says. “People just don’t understand how polluted the structures we live in and work in are. It’s 10 to 30 times, sometimes 100 times, more polluted indoors than outdoors. And when you think about how much time we spend indoors, it certainly affects our health.”

Besides wanting to live in a healthier home, the rich see sustainable houses as a way to preserve an important investment. “The longevity of the structure and the lower maintenance costs add to the value of the asset,” Williams says. “Green homes are more durable. Typically, homes in the United States are built to last 50 years. We’re trying to build homes that last 100 years and more, through multiple generations.”