I just read this thread and it really spoke to me because I've been having some discussions with Jay about T/N building after I posted about a passive solar conventionally "green" (i.e., airtight, superinsulated) home we are planning to build this summer.
Rufus really spoke to what is in my head, and how I'm feeling right now. While he and Jay went back and forth about semantics, I believe that for most people in American/Canadian society it is not so simple as whether the stuff actually works or is proven.
Perhaps some of you are familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs model, which essentially states that there are basic human needs - shelter, food, security - that must be met before people can devote their minds to "higher" needs such as personal growth and development. In other words, take a single mother living on the edge of poverty, fearful of an abusive ex-partner, and at risk of losing her home if she misses work a couple of days to care for her sick child because she won't be able to pay the rent. This woman has no "room in her mind" to contemplate higher needs such as a change in lifestyle (for example), such as becoming vegetarian (which involves doing the research, learning new recipes, learning new shopping habits, monitoring nutritional intake...at least until it becomes more established and automatic) because her mind and life are fully taken up by meeting her more basic needs.
In my experience, going "against the grain" or "outside the box" - i.e., doing things in a way that is significantly different from how the people around you do things or what they believe to be "common sense" - requires that bit of extra "room in one's head". And room in your life, for that matter. If your life is crazy busy and your schedule is packed, you likely don't have time to consider a deliberate move against the grain (e.g., selling your car and cycling everywhere, or challenging yourself to remove plastic from your life).
Now move on to the John Doe family that Rufus described. I'm facing a similar situation. My family desperately needs a new house and we have waited five years to build on our property while we've been living in a rapidly aging, tiny mobile home. The budget is tighter than we'd hoped but we can't wait any longer. We have strong feelings about what we "need" (which, as Jay pointed out, is really about what we "want"), but those wants have been honed over years of actively thinking about what we want most and what we can live without, and to start over again with re-assessing needs/wants takes time and "room in our minds" that we feel we've already spent. My husband doesn't want a "hobbit house" or "hippy palace" and he's unlikely to take my word over a professional builder's when it comes to, for example, the need for a vapour barrier. Especially when our life savings is at stake. To consider switching from a "conventional green" building (superinsulated, airtight, passive solar) to a T/N building requires us to essentially start at square one and re-learn everything we thought we knew about buildings (not because nobody else knows how to do it, but because if WE don't understand it enough to believe in it, we can't feel good about choosing that path nor can we be confident about the builder we choose).
I've made several "outside the box" choices before: when I became pregnant with my first child, I decided I needed to relearn everything I thought I knew about childrearing. I went way outside the box and ended up raising my kids the "traditional/natural" way, which was pretty much foreign to most people around me. That took time, energy, and "space in my mind" to get from "hey, this is interesting, I want to know more" to "we are going to do things completely different from what most people expect". Importantly, it took enough confidence to stand up against "professionals" who warned me that what I was doing was just plain WRONG.
I did the same thing with education: my children have been unschooled since birth. Very outside the box.
To do things like sleep with your baby or not send your kids to school requires that you have enough faith and confidence to proceed along a path that few around you have chosen. And you have to do enough research to be able to stand up to the "professionals" who will insist you have no clue what you are doing and predict dire consequences.
So...for me to go from "conventional green" to T/N would require me to do a whole bunch of research, gain enough confidence to fly in the face of "professional advice", find a like-minded community for support, and find local professionals who can help me achieve my new goals.
The difference between the kids and the house is this: if it turned out I wasn't happy with the way things were going with my kids, I could immediately switch things up. I could have sent them to school within a few days of deciding unschooling wasn't working. I could have run out and bought a crib or weaned my children early if I felt things weren't working out the way I wanted them to. But when it comes to building a house, mistakes are not only time-consuming, they could potentially bankrupt us. As a parent, I am solely responsible for executing the style of parenting or education I want, but I will not be involved in the construction of our house at all; I have zero skills in that area. So I'd be trusting someone else to execute my vision and that is really scary to me.
So while I am intrigued by T/N and I'm trying to learn some stuff from Jay so that I can bring some knowledge and good questions to the table when we meet with our builders, I have to say that I'm also feeling pretty intimidated and overwhelmed at the thought of starting over again and relearning what I thought I knew about green building.
Rufus is right about all the societal things that get in the way, the realities of living in a culture and a part of the world where such knowledge is rare and flies in the face of what we believe we know about things like vapour barriers and the insulative properties of natural materials. It doesn't even matter if we do it all wrong (like people making their babies sleep alone when they are designed to sleep next to another human) because when that is what "everybody does" we, as humans and social creatures, require a great deal of "mental energy" and "room in our minds" to go against the grain. We're wired to absorb and take for granted the cultural knowledge that surrounds us so that we aren't all re-inventing the wheel. This has many benefits, but it also means that when "common sense" makes no sense at all, it is difficult to get minds to change.
I applaud Jay for his tireless efforts to promote the message that T/N is a possibility and that anybody who truly wants to follow this path CAN do it, no room for excuses!. I applaud him for pointing out that so many of our needs are really just wants, that so many of our can'ts are really just won'ts. He is calling us all out on our bullshit and I respect that immensely. With that said, it may be possible to do T/N with no extra cost or time than a conventional build, but I believe that is only if one has already put the time and energy into educating themselves, forming the support network, and establishing confidence within oneself to proceed against the grain. That takes energy and space in the mind that many modern families simply don't have. I'm not sure I have much of it to spare myself these days, so I can totally relate to what Rufus wrote.