Stylish and Sustainable
A Florida couple builds an energy-efficient, eco-minded house that's long on creative comforts
Key Largo homeowners John Hammerstrom and Diane Marshall were determined to build an energy-efficient, environmentally sensitive house that would leave a light footprint on the Florida coastline while providing all of the modern conveniences we luxe-minded Americans demand. Here's what they learned in the process, and how you can apply those lessons in your own home.
A 7,500-gallon concrete cistern collects rain runoff and provides over half of their water for both potable and nonpotable uses. A diversion valve ensures that the first raindrops wipe the roof clean of debris. Then the water runs through copper gutters into the cistern, where three filters treat it. The filtered water is pumped into the house through copper pipes via a solar-powered jet pump.
The house features other water-saving devices, too, such as low-flow showerheads and an on-demand water recirculation system.
John and Diane knew their house would have to contend with several climatic factors endemic to the Sunshine State, most notably all that sunshine. "Our main goal was to keep the heat out," says John, whose battle plan included long, overhanging eaves that would shield the windows from harsh sunlight. Bahama shutters, hinged at the top, shade the upper floors.
Colonial shutters on the south-facing side of the house block the sun entirely. The window openings on that side were kept small, too, since they would be the primary gateway for the most intense rays. The exterior frames of the tinted windows are clad in vinyl, which stands up well to moist ocean air.
With the aid of a high-efficiency ceiling fan, a cupola with operable windows works like a chimney to draw warm air up and out of the house, while rectangular clerestory windows carved high on the walls between several interior rooms provide cross-ventilation.
The couple incorporated two spacious screened-in porches, where they can sit in the evenings and use the refreshing ocean breezes, instead of the central air, to keep them comfortable. "I always get sad when I have to turn the air-conditioning on," says John.
At least their quiet and energy-efficient Lennox AC unit is supplemented with Hampton Bay ceiling fans designed by the Florida Solar Energy Center that are 40 percent more energy-efficient than conventional fans.
The biggest investment John and Diane made toward energy efficiency is the 2.8-kilowatt Kyocera solar panel system that adorns their roof. The panels, packed with photovoltaic cells, convert sunshine into the electrical current that provides half the household's power needs. Electric bills typically run an affordable $50 per month in the summer, when the AC is kicking, and a measly $15 when it's not.
With the help of interior designer Winston Lippert, John and Diane found several creative ways to incorporate salvaged materials, inside and out. Their kitchen is outfitted with showroom cabinets a local designer jettisoned before moving to a new location.
Low-VOC paints, sustainable and moisture-resistant bamboo floors, salvaged doors, and air-circulating clerestory windows are some of the green features in John and Diane's living room.
Details like wooden corbels and this column capital are among the house's many salvaged materials.
"We wanted columns in the foyer, and Winston sent us these photographs of salvaged columns he'd found that looked like old, rotten telephone poles," says Diane. "One the back of the photos he wrote, 'Trust me.' And he was right—once they were cleaned and stained, they looked great."
1. The windowed cupola, equipped with a ceiling fan, provides natural light as it draws hot air up and out of the house, one of the many energy-saving architectural features.
2. A white roof made of recycled aluminum helps keep the interior of the house cool by reflecting heat. It also provides heat from escaping when the temperature drops.
3. Operable (and good-looking) hurricane shutters block the sun's rays and protect the windows when ocean breezes turn to hurricane-force winds. The double-hung windows help promote airflow.
4. Smaller windows help to minimize solar heat gain, as does the light-colored stucco, which also holds up well to the damp Florida weather.
5. A 7,500-gallon concrete cistern, tucked discretely underneath a guest room, provides half the household's water needs. The system is supplemented by the municipal water supply.
After their house was finished, John and Diane resolved to try and make things easier for anyone else in the Keys looking to build a house as green as theirs. Together with several nonprofit and government organizations, the couple founded Florida Keys Green Living and Energy Education (GLEE), which conducts seminars promoting sustainable building and living. "So many pieces have to come together," says John. "Sure, there are education issues, but we also need a regulatory climate that makes green building more doable, not to mention well-trained craftsmen. After all, the public is clamoring for this stuff."