Monday, December 31, 2012

Builder Magazine - McMansions vs. Smart Design

published January, 2010

I've just finished reading “Is the McMansion Dead?” by Jenny Sullivan in the current issue of Builder. There has been much written and broadcast in the media recently about the plight of the McMansion and I can’t help but sense some animosity in the tone of many of the stories. I have sensed that some people show a little pleasure in seeing those, perceived as being more affluent, now suffering and losing their homes. Some may feel that the death of the McMansion is reprise for the flamboyant or pretentious lifestyles of their owners.  While I generally agree with much that has been said, I can’t help but think that the consumers’ desires for “newer”, “bigger”, “better”, have managed to put bread on our table for many years now.
All that said, my response has more to do with what wasn't mentioned in Jenny’s story.  Here in Central Florida where we are suffering from one of the worst new home markets in the nation, Cost-per-Square-Foot continues to be the overwhelming guideline used by consumers and most real estate professionals, to compare the value of homes for sale. This Cost-per-Square-Foot mentality fueled the boom market with big, boxy, generic floorplans and a cafeteria buffet line approach to design and amenities. With my own unsold masterpiece, twice I've lost sales to other homes that were actually more expensive than mine but offered a lower cost-per-square-foot. One of the buyers told me they preferred my home but felt the larger one was a better value. They actually spent more and purchased a home that is bigger than they need because of this brainwashing. In addition, my home is green and will cost much less to run and maintain, which wasn't even a factor in their decision process. If this rationale carried over to our automotive purchases we would all be driving gas-guzzling SUV’s and be willing to spend more for them than a practical, efficient vehicle. Oh wait a minute…
This past spring, our local HBA Parade of Homes featured the seven most-expensive new homes in the southwest quadrant of Metro-Orlando. They were built by seven different builders but were all basically the same floorplan. As builders and designers we must accept our share of blame for part of the problem. If we persist in building big, glitzy drywall barns with no real discernible differences, then the public will continue to treat housing like a commodity. The solution may be better design. In addition to creative style, our homes should be designed and built to provide low environmental impact, accessibility, adaptability, sustainability and ease of maintenance. Smart design should create a timeless appeal and lasting value, and there isn't any reason they can’t be exciting and glamorous as well. Think about it.  Keith Groninger

Hi Keith ,
We don’t know one another, but I wanted to comment on your response to the Mcmansion article in Builder Magazine.  It was well said and on the money.  Consumer demand drives what/how we build (or in my case what/how I remodel) as is the case for any manufacturer.  The problem is that Consumer demand has become perverted somehow to the substitution of substance and real value.  This is a cultural matter that extends to all aspects of the American life - what we eat, what we wear, where we live.  The pain caused by this recession is causing the Consumer reevaluate “value”.  My hope is that substance will again become something people are willing to pay for so you and I can continue to thrive.
Gary Krause
Krause Construction

I could have written your McMansions vs Smart Design column.  It is driving me and every other builder I know absolutely nuts with "real estate professionals"(your term) doing the "one price fit all", and "all homes are alike" thing with their prospects.  I am also a broker, and have become something of a pariah to Realtors as I openly admonish them for not learning the products they show. I've been is biz since 1977, and have always offered to be at a showing of one of my homes to better familiarize prospects with features. Arithmetic will tell you that's 33 years, and in all of that 33 years I've not had 1(one) "real estate professional" take me up on that.  We only have 1 paper now in Denver, and a writer I know tells me that Realtors pretty much tell them what tone to deliver in their real estate writing, and can get away with it as Realtors are one of the few large sources of advertising revenue for the paper.   Another big source of confusion for buyers here is realtors are including finished basements is S.F. prices on a public web page.  As a broker I'm formulating a complaint and rule making request to the regulatory agency about this.  There's a couple of web site links below my signature on this if you want to learn about me.
Stephen Holben
Holben Building Corp.2765 S. Colorado Blvd., #102
Denver, Co. 80222

As an interior designer and NAHB CGP, I couldn't agree more about the importance of smart design, and predict, that as consumers become more educated and particular in an increasingly competitive market, houses that do provide intelligent design will have the upper hand in terms of providing better saleability. Also, I believe the qualities of creative design and style, which are so hard to define, will continue to be the qualities that will make or break a sale, as they are the items that usually provide the emotional impetus to the purchase of a home. As a designer, I have been fortunate to find that all of my homes have sold easily, and at the asking price (including a decent ROI) because they have looked beautiful.
Good luck Keith with the sale of your masterpiece!
Victoria Lyon

My jaw dropped when I read your piece in the recent Builder Magazine. In a word, it was PERFECT.  You are 100% right on all counts.  I am so glad you had it published in a magazine with such a wide reach and a vast audience. 
Your points on McMansions are dead on.  There are those out there who love to see people with any measure of success, fail. Despite the glee people find in the distress of others,  I think the death knell for McMansions is premature.  I don’t see their demise at all.  There is a downturn in the market in general, and large homes are no exception, but they are not dead.
I would also like to point out that McMansions are known by another, less pejorative  term to those who live in them – home!
Also, you comments about cookie-cutter floor plans were absolutely correct.  Troy and I have had this conversation for almost a decade  but it is a point that a had to be delivered to builders by a builder. Thank you for doing so.  In fact, we are so tired of standard Arthur Rutenburg rip-off floor plan in multi-million dollar homes that when we renovated our own home (aka McMansion), we purposefully left our 1950’s floor plan as is.
Thank you for writing such a great letter to Builder Mag. I hope it makes a lot of waves! 
Stephanie Henley

Beasley & Henley Interior Design
Atlanta  *  Winter Park *  Naples

Ditto…..what Stephanie said. 
I could go on for days about this topic………as you know, we (designers) like to be challenged, and we also like to see and work on projects that reflect quality and imagination…….which standard floor plans accomplish neither. They are the lazy way out! 
Custom should mean just that…..”custom”, to each individual clients needs, and desires, which rest on our (builders, architects, designers, landscape designers), shoulders………… 
I am always trying to get our clients to spend the dollars, to hire the right team, to create their future residence, and as Stephanie stated, their “home” 
We have three children, and have built our residence to reflect our “wants” and yes, we had a budget, but…….we made it happen, with a lot of thought, and care. This concept applies to a 2000 square foot residence, or a 30,000 foot residence. It’s all the same, minus the dollar difference. 
Whatever the size…….just do it right. 
Enough said, except…….thank you for voicing your opinion, ………… Stephanie said, as a builder. 
Best regards,
Troy Beasley

Kieth -
    Bob Hartford here, Silverwood Inc, North Carolina. . Check out the "Bingham Ridge" tab . As in your Builder Mag comments, these are truly better homes, but sales have been pulled into the dumper along with every other project in the state. What does it take to deal with the square footage as value issue ? NC and FLA are the worst for this syndrome. In NJ and NY square footage is not required to list a property. Price is tied to the property characteristics  and its location only. 

    If you have any thoughts regarding methods for marketing better homes at higher value with S.F. not being the main factor, let me know. Perhaps an internet posting of some kind with comments from multiple custom type builders ? The media is everything, and I am not so good at getting it on my side. Perhaps you will hear from others after builder has posted your comments.
Bob Hartford, Silverwood, Inc.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Outdoor Living Space

The indoor-outdoor relationship likely has more impact on the southern style of architecture, than any other influence. Except for July and August here in Florida, there are several days every month that encourage spending time in an inviting outdoor space.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Design Priorities for Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency starts with good design. Of course the efficiency of nearly any home can be improved, but designing for energy efficiency is always going to yield the best results. 
Depending on the status of your project, there are priorities to consider that will have an impact on the energy performance of the structure.
 1. Property Selection - View lots are the most common to create challenges with home energy use. Ideally southern views are going to be beneficial and western views the most detrimental. Additionally the shape of the lot can affect the length axis of the home with positive or negative effects on energy use.
    2. Solar Orientation - Once property has been selected, the structure should be oriented to capitalize on the seasonal arc of the sun. In the northern hemisphere it's preferred to orient windows to the southern exposure and prevent heat gain on the east and west elevations.
    3. Passive Solar Design - The sun can heat our homes in the winter and even help keep us cool in the summer - for free, when passive solar design techniques are used. In this approach, the building itself or some element of it takes advantage of natural energy characteristics in materials and air created by exposure to the sun. Passive systems are simple, have few moving parts, and require minimal maintenance and no mechanical systems.
    4. Reduce Energy Demand - Some of the most effective methods to reduce energy use include: increased insulation values and weathertightness; HVAC zoning and programmable thermostatsCFL and LED lighting; and behavior modification.
    5. Increase Efficiency - Increased energy efficiency is available for a number of building systems. This is where cost-benefit analysis becomes important. Depending on the success of the previous strategies, there may be a point of diminishing returns from the investment in higher performance products. Windows and HVAC systems are the main items to fall into this category.
    6. Solar Thermal Heating (and Cooling) - Solar hot water heating is a type of thermal heating strategy but did you know that thermal solar collectors can also be used to heat the inside of the house? This is called hydronic heating and is actually quite comfortable and can be affordable. Additionally, in the right application solar thermal panels can actually be used to cool your home in the summer time.
    7. Alternate or Renewal Energy - The final upgrade to consider is the addition of an alternate energy source like photo-voltaic panels or a renewable source like a micro-hydro generator. Recent industry articles indicate the cost of PV (photo-voltaic) over their lifetime, is getting close to power purchased from utility companies. Additionally, if PV panels are amortized over a 15-year mortgage period, the cost saving and interest tax deduction may exceed the cost of purchased power. Let us help you make the calculations.

Floor Plan or Elevation?

A common challenge when designing a new home is to create an exterior elevation appropriate to the design theme once the floor plan is complete. Additionally, how do the floor plan and elevation impact the construct-ability of the structure. It may look beautiful but be prohibitively expensive to build. Many vernacular designs credit their appearance to the ease and efficiency which they could be built. Responsible design must balance all three elements - floor plan, elevation and structure.

The floor plan is often the starting place for a new design, although a strong elevation may dictate the boundaries and restrict the plan. Good designers build the home in their head while they are designing. Failure to understand how the structure is going to be assembled may create complexity that drives the cost up once the structural engineer starts his calculations. It's also important to understand that the engineer usually doesn't contribute until the design process is nearly finished, whereby changes may be costly.

Groninger Homes can contribute to the design process of your home to ensure streamlined execution. We'd like to design and build a new home for you but can help even if you have your own designer and/or builder. Let us show you why you should be talking to Groninger Homes.

Themed Design

Theme is another approach that supports the design and budgeting of a project. The featured home had a strong design theme that reflected a historic architectural style. Decisions were made based on the interpretation of appropriateness to the style. We researched photos and publications, to achieve the right combination of products and finishes to compliment the architecture.

Even the floor plan can be influenced by architectural style. Since vernacular architecture was most-often designed within a regional climate, the lifestyle of the occupants dictated how spaces were used and related to each other. Porches, roof pitch and exterior finishes are the most recognized influences.

Additional benefits to the themed design approach include, timeless appeal, enhanced lifestyle, energy efficiency and improved comfort. Feel free to ask how we can help you benefit from this and other aspects of functional design.

Cat Boxes

After posting photos of the new kittens that were visiting last night, I received a couple questions about the box where they were sharing their dinner.

On one side of our laundry room we built cubbies for the kids clean laundry and school books, etc. The two cabinets sit on a bench that is open underneath. Beneath the bench I built two rolling boxes that could be used for storing shoes or sports equipment. In our case we use them as cat boxes.

The box on the left has another shallow box that sits down in it. The shallow box has a removable liner for the cat litter. The box on the right holds food and water.

Both of the boxes can be easily rolled out for cleaning and someday if we become empty-nesters (without a cat), we can use the boxes for some other purpose.

Choose a Builder for Product or Service?

My friend, Tracy DeCarlo just posted an article describing one of the reasons many home construction projects go wrong. She hit one of the nails right on the head. Lack of specifications and an incomplete set of construction documents, expose the owner to potential change orders and expensive oversights. Omissions and inadequate allowances are typically the culprits when one builder's price is substantially less than another's. But there's another issue that often sets the stage to cautiously approach the selection of a home builder.

Most buyers choose a builder based on their product, not the service they provide. Few builders win awards for their service although many are recognized for award-winning designs. Some builders have a keen eye for details and aesthetics, but the reality is that most designs are the work of someone other than the builder. The point here is to focus first on the service provided by the builder, then consider the product. Do the skills and processes demonstrated by the builder indicate that they can manage the project efficiently without surprise and extra cost? Ask your builder about the procedural systems they use for managing their projects.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Adaptable Design

Adaptable Design refers to the ability of a home to suit multiple and changing needs of its occupants. As a family grows or ages, their needs for space and functionality evolve. There are several considerations related to the specific needs of a family but also to the changing demographics of what defines a family and the occupants of a home.

The life-cycle of a conventional family follows a somewhat predictable path, but this of course depends on the definition of "conventional". Several new descriptions of family types have been coined in recent years and demographics are constantly changing. 

Adaptable design attempts to address the needs of the changing family unit and allow a home to serve its occupants over time without compromises or expensive renovations.

The process of designing for adaptability starts with a look at the family unit:
  • Families with young children usually desire bedrooms that are grouped together. Young children may actually prefer sharing a bedroom or bathroom with a sibling.
  • Pre-teen children may not yet require privacy, but have some specialized needs that include study space and entertaining their friends. Spaces shared by the family may not be suitable for activities that include video games and internet browsing.
  • Teenagers desire privacy for themselves and their friends. The home where the teenagers prefer to hangout may (or may not) be conducive to healthy growth of the family.
  • When children leave for college, the home may have an empty feeling, but parents are often reluctant to downsize too quickly in case of "rebound". The current economy and lifestyle of young working adults has contributed to more college graduates moving back in with their parents.
  • The number of multi-generational households is also on the rise. As well as the above factors, increased lifespans may contribute to elderly parents moving into the family home. Add to that cultural preferences, and the number of households with three or even four generations under one roof is on the rise.
  • Empty Nesters are frequently active and social, but not yet ready for retirement. Without the additional family members under the roof, they want to entertain or travel, and be free from maintenance or management of a large home. Their needs have evolved away from "family" but they might still want some space for family members when they come to visit.
For these reasons and many others, adaptable design should allow a home to function successfully through as many of life's phases as possible. We look forward to discussing your household needs and creating a special home design just for you.

These two homes both feature courtyard floor plans with cabana suites which are ideal for in-laws, college students or an office with private entrance. Please follow these links for more:

Hamilton Residence

Lujo Rustico

Monday, December 3, 2012

Best Price or Best Value?

Lasting value starts with a good price. The lowest cost isn't always the best value, but it’s a good place to start. The term “value” can mean something a little different to everyone asked. Everyone defines good value a little differently, but to most it’s a balance between cost, performance and quality.

A home with Lasting Value should have these characteristics:
  • reasonable initial price and operating costs;
  • functional design and good performance;
  • low maintenance and durability, and;
  • timeless emotional and market appeal.

Value Strategies are techniques used to understand and obtain the best value on a project. Look for more posts on the subject of value coming up...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Design vs. Budget

Understanding the budget goals of the project requires a good understanding of construction costs, something that many designers are not qualified to do. Conceptual and preliminary estimating should be available during the design process to prevent surprises and manage the design to the budget. Many projects have remained on the drawing board when the owners discover that the cost to build is over their budget.

Designing to a budget is an effective way to ensure that a design gets built. Once again, by beginning the estimating process during the design phase, surprises can be minimized. When establishing a conceptual budget, we have some tricks that help us understand the owners' needs:
  • Architectural Digest, Southern Living or DIY magazines
    Depending on the type of design magazines that the owner prefers, we can get a hint of where we should establish a budget. The high-design and details shown in Architectural Digest are demanding and some builders may have difficulty achieving the level of quality; Southern Living magazine demonstrates attention to detail but is not as demanding, and; DIY is usually about achieving bang-for-the-buck at the best price.
  • Aluminum or Wood-Clad Windows
    There is a broad range of window preferences among many home buyers, from: specific name-brand high-end products, to; no preference at all. While the wood-clad windows are more expensive, the preference is often driven by demand to achieve a high level of quality and performance. These expectations can influence many of the other products and systems within a home.
  • Appliances and Plumbing Fixtures
    Appliances and plumbing fixtures can be large ticket items within a home's budget, but the customer selection has more to do with the overall budget than just the appliances or fixtures themselves. It's been our experience that when buyers want specific appliance and plumbing fixture brands, they won't compromise otherwise. We can reduce the size of the home or make other cutbacks to save money, but they often will not consider other brands.
Did all that make sense? These are our observations after working with dozens of owners. Establishing a conceptual or preliminary budget can be more involved that just adding up costs. A good estimator can help establish a realistic budget, and then a good designer can design within the budget.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Design Strategies

There are two sides to the process of designing a home - aesthetic and functional. Even if "form follows function", design preferences play a key role in managing the expectations of the customer. Some people are drawn to the work of a designer because the aesthetics appeal to their taste, while others prefer designs and styles they are familiar with. In all cases, good design is a function of understanding, what the customer likes, what they need and, what they can afford.

Photos and scrap books are a great way to collect design ideas. During the early stages of the design process, try not to think too literally. Use your ideas to inspire the designer. Show the designer what you like without telling him or her what you want. You may be surprised what a little thinking outside of the box will achieve. Allow the designer to express his interpretation of your requests. He may have ideas and solutions that you hadn't considered.

The personality types of both the designer and owner, play roles in the design process. There's a big difference between practical and flamboyant. Accountants, athletes, entertainers and CEO's may have completely different agendas. A responsible designer should know which type of owners he can please and refer others to another designer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CFL Lighting

CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lighting) are available in a variety of styles or shapes. Some have two, four, or six tubes. Older models, and specialty models, have separate tubes and ballasts. Some CFLs have the tubes and ballast permanently connected. This allows you to change the tubes without changing the ballast. Others have circular or spiral-shaped tubes. In general, the size or total surface area of the tube determines how much light the bulb produces.


  • Efficient: CFLs are four times more efficient and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents. A 22 watt CFL has about the same light output as a 100 watt incandescent. CFLs use 50 - 80% less energy than incandescents.
  • Less Expensive: Although initially more expensive, you save money in the long run because CFLs use 1/3 the electricity and last up to 10 times as long as incandescents. A single 18 watt CFL used in place of a 75 watt incandescent will save about 570 kWh over its lifetime. At 8 cents per kWh, that equates to a $45 savings.
  • Reduces Air and Water Pollution: Replacing a single incandescent bulb with a CFL will keep a half-ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the life of the bulb. If everyone in the U.S. used energy-efficient lighting, we could retire 90 average size power plants. Saving electricity reduces CO2 emissions, sulfur oxide and high-level nuclear waste.
  • High-Quality Light: Newer CFLs give a warm, inviting light instead of the "cool white" light of older fluorescents. They use rare earth phosphors for excellent color and warmth. New electronically ballasted CFLs don't flicker or hum.
  • Versatile: CFLs can be applied nearly anywhere that incandescent lights are used. Energy-efficient CFLs can be used in recessed fixtures, table lamps, track lighting, ceiling fixtures and porchlights. 3-way CFLs are also now available for lamps with 3-way settings. Dimmable CFLs are also available for lights using a dimmer switch.

LED Lighting

LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are solid light bulbs which are extremely energy-efficient. When first developed, LEDs were limited to single-bulb use in applications such as instrument panels, electronics, pen lights and, more recently, strings of indoor and outdoor Christmas lights.

Manufacturers have expanded the application of LEDs by "clustering" the small bulbs. Today, LED bulbs are made using as many as 180 bulbs per cluster, and encased in diffuser lenses which spread the light in wider beams. Now available with standard bases which fit common household light fixtures, LEDs are the next generation in home lighting.


  • Long-lasting - LED bulbs last up to 10 times as long as compact fluorescents, and far longer than typical incandescents.
  • Durable - since LEDs do not have a filament, they are not damaged under circumstances when a regular incandescent bulb would be broken. Because they are solid, LED bulbs hold up well to jarring and bumping.
  • Cool - these bulbs do not cause heat build-up; LEDs produce 3.4 btu's/hour, compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs. Common incandescent bulbs get hot and contribute to heat build-up in a room. LEDs prevent this heat build-up, thereby helping to reduce air conditioning costs in the home.
  • Mercury-free - no mercury is used in the manufacturing of LEDs.
  • More efficient - LED light bulbs use only 2-17 watts of electricity (1/3rd to 1/30th of Incandescent or CFL). LED bulbs used in fixtures inside the home save electricity, remain cool and save money on replacement costs since LED bulbs last so long. Small LED flashlight bulbs will extend battery life 10 to 15 times longer than with incandescent bulbs.
  • Cost-effective - although LEDs are initially expensive, the cost is recouped over time and in battery savings. LED bulb use was first adopted commercially, where maintenance and replacement costs are expensive. But the cost of new LED bulbs has gone down considerably in the last few years. and are continuing to go down. Today, there are many new LED light bulbs for use in the home, and the cost is becoming less of an issue. To see a cost comparison between the different types of energy-saving light bulbs, see our Light Bulb Comparison Charts.
  • Light for remote areas and portable generators - because of the low power requirement for LEDs, using solar panels becomes more practical and less expensive than running an electric line or using a generator for lighting in remote or off-grid areas. LED light bulbs are also ideal for use with small portable generators which homeowners use for backup power in emergencies.

Energy Efficient Lighting

Electric lighting burns up to 25% of the average home energy budget. The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself.

Additionally, the heat created by incandescent lighting adds to the latent heat-load and requires the air-conditioning system to work harder to remove it. This is especially an issue in the southern home.

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs have revolutionized energy-efficient lighting.

CFLs are simply miniature versions of full-sized fluorescent lights. They screw into standard lamp sockets, and give off light that looks similar to the common incandescent bulbs - not like the fluorescent lighting we associate with factories and schools.

LEDs are small, very efficient solid bulbs. New LED bulbs are grouped in clusters with diffuser lenses which have broadened the applications for LED use in the home. LED technology is advancing rapidly, with many new bulb styles available. Initially more expensive than CFLs, LEDs bring more value since they last longer. Also, the price of LED bulbs is going down each year as the manufacturing technology continues to improve.

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's Not the Heat, It's the Humidity

My wife declares that she is burning up!

She is fanning herself with a magazine and obviously uncomfortable. However, the thermostat on the wall tells me that the temperature is the same as always for this time of the evening. The T-stat is programmable and the settings haven't been changed. How can she possibly be so hot?

To console her I drop the temperature two degrees, only to be shaking my head 20 minutes later when I see she has covered herself with a small blanket. My initial assumption is that her personal thermostat is broken.

There are some additional details that you need to know. It's early October here in Florida and the outdoor temperature is cooler than the peak of summer. Additionally, rain this afternoon cooled off the roof and inside the temperature is within our comfort range, without the use of air-conditioning. Here's what happened:
  1. The AC system has not been running because of the pleasant temperature this time of year.
  2. Humidity inside has slowly increased as a result of cooking, showers, laundry and even our breathing.
  3. Increased humidity in the air prevents moisture on our skin from evaporating.
  4. Comfort comes from a combination of temperature, humidity and air movement.
Camie was uncomfortable because the increased humidity prevented evaporation from her skin. When I turned on the AC, in addition to dropping the temperature two degrees it also removed the excess humidity in the room and created a draft. Admittedly, her personal T-stat is a bit more sensitive than mine, but she had just experienced a drastic change in all three of the components that affect comfort.

The Southern Home may need additional dehumidification during times of the year that pleasant temperatures prevent your AC system from operating. I wrote another article recently on the subject titled, All Southern Homes Need Dehumidification. Since running the AC is costly, a separate dehumidifier is worth considering to increase comfort during periods of Spring and Fall when temperatures are pleasant.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dog Trot

Long before air-conditioning was invented, homes throughout the southeastern United States were designed to capture cooling breezes and shade their occupants from the hot southern sun. The Dog Trot is a design that was common during the 19th and 20th centuries, that was used with various architectural and regional styles.

The plan consisted of two enclosures connected under one roof and separated by a breezeway. Typically one enclosure would be used for cooking and dining, and the other used for living and sleeping spaces. The separation kept the heat of the kitchen out of the remainder of the house. 

The additional benefit of the breezeway was its ability to capture breezes and actually increase the velocity of air movement. With the help of deep overhangs or front and rear porches, even the lightest breeze was captured and funneled between the two enclosures. By opening doors and windows to the breezeway, and windows on the far side of the enclosures, cross-drafts were created that removed heat and made the living spaces more comfortable.

Modern home designs can benefit from lessons of the past. As energy costs continue to rise, it makes sense to look back at the techniques that were used to remove heat and improve comfort in our homes. Zoned living spaces, large overhangs, covered porches and cross-ventilation can all contribute to the architectural style and performance of the Southern Home.

courtesy of Dan Gregory, Architect

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

All Southern Homes Need Dehumidification

Ventilation and Dehumidification are critical talking points, especially here in Florida. Until recently they were discussed little, but the way we build homes is changing and they are now important issues.

A well-insulated home will maintain its temperature during moderate times of the year. As a result, the air-conditioning system will not operate very much. Typical thermostats only measure air temperature, but humidity, air movement and air quality all affect our comfort. Cooking, showers, and even breathing raise the humidity level in the home.

When the humidity level is too high, moisture ceases to evaporate from our skin making us feel clammy and sticky. Even light breezes lose their refreshing feel. High humidity levels support the growth of mold and mildew, and allow the air we breath to carry more impurities not present at lower levels.

Here in Florida during the spring and fall, without the use of air-conditioning, humidity levels will rise in the home causing uncomfortable and potentially even unhealthy conditions. Efficient dehumidification without the added expense of operating the AC or heating system, is the answer to lowering humidity levels and increasing comfort. We have several interesting articles available for view in our Building Science collection if you want to learn more.

To summarize: more insulation + tighter construction = less AC & more humidity. In an upcoming article I’ll discuss ventilation and its role in the southern home.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Behavior and Habits

As a new empty-nester couple, our power and water (and grocery) bills have dropped substantially now that our kids have moved out of the house. I learned conservation from my father, who wouldn’t turn on the AC until he saw beads of sweat running down your forehead. While I’m not quite that extreme, I do take a “military shower”, as Dad referred to it. I turn the shower on to get wet, then turn it off to lather up, and then turn it back on to rinse. My shower water usage doesn’t exceed a minute; a fraction of time compared to our now absentee family members.

Behavior and attitude may have the most impact on our energy and water use.  While my habits help me save, there are some strategies to consider when building a new home that can help you conserve too.

  • Solar orientation, natural lighting and shading, take advantage of the seasonal arch of the sun, to provide light and heat when it’s wanted, and prevent excess heat gain when it’s not.
  • Zoning and programmable thermostats allow you to control the AC and heating in the areas of the house where you spend your time, effectively reducing the amount of living space that has to be conditioned.
  • Stand-alone dehumidification increases comfort at a set temperature without running the AC.  The saying, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”, was probably coined here in central Florida.
  • Lighting design and control can reduce the number and length of time electric lighting is needed, but still maintain security and convenience.
  • Operable windows can be oriented to catch breezes and exhaust heat, while still providing security and allowing use during rainy weather.
  • Native Florida landscaping that has adapted to the environment, requires less water and maintenance while adding to the beauty of the property.
  • A convenient location to line-dry clean laundry saves energy used by the dryer and extends the life of clothing and linens, all while adding a crisp, clean feel.

These are a some of the ideas that can greatly reduce energy and water use, plus there are also many other ways to reduce demand and increase efficiency with the design and construction of a new home.  Look for more posts on these subjects soon.  Keith Groninger

Friday, March 2, 2012

Has the term "Green" been Over-Utilized?

I’ve occasionally observed confusion and resistance surrounding conversations about green construction and lifestyles. I wonder why some people stumble while others are jumping on the green bandwagon, so I’ve decided to remove “green” from the discussion. Here’s a list that I compiled of potential benefits related to the design, product selection and construction techniques that might be considered when planning a new home or renovation project:
  • Community Impact
  • Durable Construction
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Environmental Awareness
  • Health and Comfort
  • Operations and Maintenance
  • Property Characteristics
  • Resource Utilization
  • Site Development
  • Waste Management
  • Water Conservation
What factors do you use in the decision-making process?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Green Resources

Building America
Certified Green Professional
Clean Air - Cool Planet
CTSI - Clean Technology Green Team
Environments for Living
Global Green
Green America
Green Builder Magazine
Green Building Advisor
Green Building Initiative
Green Home Builder Mag
Green Home Guide
Happy Planet Index
Home Energy Saver
MyFlorida Green Building
Natural Home and Garden
Orange County Yards
Sustainable Buildings Ind.
Sustainable Site Initiative
Think About Pollution
US Dept. of Energy
Water Footprint
Winter Park Green Button
Winter Park Sustainability

Green Links

Green Certification

Incentive Programs

Energy Links

Florida Links
My Florida Climate

Healthy Interiors

Water Conservation


Performance Standards

In the near future it's likely that homes built without a performance rating from a recognized provider may be considered obsolete. Most homebuyers already demand a level of performance and quality that exceeds the building code or typical "industry" standards.

LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.  For homebuilders, LEED is a tool to measure the quality and sustainability of its homes against the marketplace.  For homebuyers, LEED is a Scorecard—like a nutrition label—that gives a clear, concise picture of all the ways a green home performs at a higher level.  There's Green... and then there's LEED.

NGBS - National Green Building Standard and NAHBGreen are designed to help buyers get the full benefit of a greener home. In 2007 the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish a much-needed and nationally-recognizable standard definition of green building. NGBS projects are designed and built to the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard and certified by the NAHB Research Center. 

FGBC - The Florida Green Building Coalition establishecriteria by which a Florida home can be designated green.  Many homeowners are desiring and some insisting that their home be earth friendly, affordable to operate, and healthy to live in. FGBC's Green Home Standard is a tool that will guide you through the process of selecting green features that are cost effective, benefit the environment, and compliment your lifestyle. The standard is achievable by everyone and recognized as a statewide industry standard. 

Energy Star - Not sure if you're ready to go "green"? Investigate going "blue" with Energy Star. To earn the Energy Star, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes.

EPA Indoor airPLUS - Indoor airPLUS was created to meet the growing consumer preference for homes with improved indoor air quality. EPA developed additional construction specifications to help improve indoor air quality in new homes. Requirements include the careful selection and installation of moisture control systems; heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems; combustion-venting systems; radon resistant construction; and low-emitting building materials.

Florida Water Star - Florida Water Star is a water conservation certification program with standards and guidelines for water efficiency that include appliances, plumbing fixtures, irrigation systems and landscapes. Water Star can be effectively integrated into projects and enhance the effectiveness of other green certification programs because it is more detailed and relevant to Florida’s unique conditions.

Florida-Friendly Landscaping - Florida-Friendly Landscaping means using low-maintenance plants and environmentally sustainable practices. Learn how you can have a beautiful landscape that could save you time, energy and money while protecting our future. Find out more about your county’s program and the companion web site of the FDEP Springs Initiative.

Adding green features or certification to your project adds value and improves its performance and livability. The most beneficial approach is to start early and incorporate elements and "attitude" into the design. The process is an integrative whole-building approach where decisions made in one category may enhance or impede performance elsewhere. We can help you add green components to your estimate, specifications and construction schedule.

A preliminary analysis can be performed during the design phase so that goals can be established for development of the project. Whether you've decided to go green with your home or you'd like to develop a green program for your business, let us show you the benefits and help you structure the process to suit your needs.