Aug 14, 2006

The House That Green Built

The house that green built
Florida lags in efforts to make homes eco-friendly

Nin-Hai Tseng | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted August 14, 2006

Instead of granite countertops for the gourmet kitchen, Pamela and John Pare chose the kind made of recycled glass.

The Orlando couple opted for something different throughout the house. Bamboo flooring instead of regular hardwood for the bedroom. Low-flow water faucets for the bathroom. Nontoxic paint for the walls. Cork flooring for the guesthouse.

The Pares could have used materials widely familiar to mainstream builders, but they wanted to redo their Orlando home in a way that will conserve water, save energy and ultimately be environmentally friendly -- a task growing more urgent as a booming population increases pollution and strains Central Florida's natural resources.

But although green building is a popular option elsewhere around the country, Florida trails other states.

In places where green building has taken hold -- such as Seattle, Chicago and Portland, Ore. -- local governments have created incentives to encourage developers and homeowners to incorporate eco-friendly gadgets and materials. And some have gone as far as making green building the standard for government buildings.

Florida has not been nearly as aggressive.

But recently, green-building advocates applauded a partnership formed between the Florida Home Builders Association and the Florida Green Building Coalition, a nonprofit group that encourages environmentally friendly design and construction. The builders group agreed to use the same standards for green building as the ones set forth by the coalition, marking a more unified commitment from the building industry.

Green-building standards differ depending on whether buildings are government offices, commercial buildings or single-family homes. But they address a number of things ranging from whether the building has energy-efficient appliances, water-saving devices on toilets and showers, or high-quality insulation. A certification that a building is "green" saves certain levels of energy and water, keeps indoor-air quality clean and uses a certain amount of recycled materials, among other things.

However, in order to change the way builders have long constructed homes and offices, they need an extra push.

"Incentives, I think, are critical," said Roy Bonnell Jr., executive director of the Florida Green Building Coalition.

Few places in the state offer incentive programs. Perhaps the most progressive are Sarasota County and Gainesville, where local governments have agreed to issue building permits quicker and at a discount if the project is certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition.

"I don't think Central Florida is on that wavelength yet," said Pamela Pare, 36, a homemaker who plans to begin construction of her family's home later this summer.

To illustrate the point, the Pares walked into their project with high hopes but discovered building green was harder than they thought. The couple's home suffered damage from Hurricane Charley two years ago. They could have patched up the broken pieces but decided to rebuild instead.

"We thought it was the way to go, especially here in Florida where we use so much energy to keep our homes comfortable," Pamela Pare said. (Her husband, John, is a candidate for judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit; his opponent is Tim Shea.)

She said her first difficulty was finding an architect familiar with green standards. She couldn't locate the right one in Florida and ended up hiring one from Atlanta.

The next obstacle was locating materials. She found some locally but ended up paying shipping costs for many delivered from the West Coast.

The U.S. Green Building Council has certified hundreds of buildings across the nation as "green" through a rating system that evaluates efforts to use renewable materials, conserve energy and water and enhance indoor-air quality.

Since 2000, the nonprofit group has certified more than 500 buildings -- the bulk of them in California, with 70. In contrast, nine Florida buildings have won the stamp of approval. Nationwide, 4,213 buildings are in the process of certification -- 81 in the Sunshine State.

"I'd say we're a bit behind if you compare us to other states," said Michael Hess, president of the council's Central Florida chapter.

Hess said there is a misconception that building green costs more when it really just takes more planning. For instance, a builder can put less lighting in a room so that it gives off less heat. That way, the air-conditioning unit doesn't have to run as often.

Hess said the trend is growing nationwide, and he is optimistic Florida will catch up to other states within the next few years because of escalating energy costs.

Such savings can be significant. Andrew Brown, a land consultant who purchased a model green home in Orlando, said he saves about $150 a month on his energy bill compared with what friends with relatively the same size home pay.

Brown, 30, said he was drawn to the location near downtown. But after living in the home for the past two years, he realized the benefits of living in a green home. The 2,000-square-foot home, which was completed in 2003, has energy-efficient appliances, a metal roof to block the sun's heat and low-flow faucets. His yard is even adorned with plants that aren't so thirsty.

"It's a beautiful home, but the green aspect is sort of the kicker," Brown said.

Other green efforts are taking root in Central Florida. Last year, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty announced the county will begin incorporating energy- and water-efficient features in newly constructed government buildings.

Lake County officials will seek U.S. Green Building Council certification on new public buildings, starting with a multimillion-dollar expansion of the judicial center.

Florida ranks 14th nationwide in the number of commercial and government buildings certified as eco-friendly by the U.S. Green Building Council.

1. California 70
2. Washington 44
3. Pennsylvania 41
4. Oregon 35
5. Michigan 30
14. Florida (tied with Wisconsin) 9

Florida ranks 15th nationwide in commercial and government buildings that are seeking certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

1. California 510
2. New York 208
3. Washington 190
4. Pennsylvania 182
5. Illinois 150
15. Florida 81

Nin-Hai Tseng can be reached at or 352-742-5919.


  1. Just wanted to mention that the architect the Pares' found in Atlanta is Dagmar Epsten of The Epsten Group, Inc. Their website is:

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I found one in Orlando, he may not have been around when this article was written but his name is Mike Houston. I think I am going to use him for my green addition, overhaul. Great article though. Florida seriously lacks many things that the rest of the world is already used to. I hope we can catch up.