Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

Florida Natural

Builder J.P. McClellan, based on Amelia Island in northeast Florida, recently completed construction on the first eco-friendly, Energy Star certified residence at the Amelia Park development, where he has overseen construction of more than 200 homes since the community’s founding 10 years ago. The beach cottage, set amid the barrier island’s natural landscape, takes advantage of several fairly simple green building techniques, not the least of which is size.

At only 1,252 square feet, the house is an energy saver from the start, with a minimum environmental footprint. McClellan says he wanted to put Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House concept to use by showing that one doesn’t have to build big to have lots of living space. One just has to build multi-purpose features in each room.

For this Amelia Park residence, that meant putting the kitchen, dining room and home office all into one space. “The key is trying not to waste space with hallways and giant two-story foyers,” McClellan says. He also framed and floored the home’s attic so it can be easily converted into a third bedroom if needed.

The house also takes advantage of the cooling properties of shade. “Shade is so important in Florida because of the hot, humid climate,” McClellan says.  Not only is this home located on a shady lot with several trees, but it also features a wide Caribbean style front porch and a screened back porch that catches cooling breezes and shades many of the windows.

The home’s orientation to the sun enables it to take advantage of passive solar day lighting to illuminate the home’s most occupied areas, reducing the need for electric lighting during the day. The orientation takes advantage of the seasonal movement of the sun, too, with the front porch capturing the sun’s rays in the winter and providing shade from those rays in the summer.

A reflective metal roof and light-colored James Hardie siding reduce the absorption of heat into the home. In addition, the roof’s sheathing is covered with a rubber membrane, which is designed to act as a secondary roof if hurricane-force winds tear off the metal roofing. “Part of building green is building houses that last as long as possible,” McClellan explains.

To keep the home’s occupants comfortable, a Trane heating and cooling system comes equipped with a humidistat instead of a thermostat. It allows the homeowners to adjust humidity levels instead of raising or lowering the interior temperature, which can mean real energy savings. “It’s not the temperature but the humidity that makes you feel hot,” McClellan points out.

The home also features reused and recycled content where possible. The roof and wall sheathing are made of recycled content, while countertops in the kitchens and baths are made of recycled concrete and glass. The walkways up to the house have been crafted of reused antique bricks. Even the landscaping around the house was designed with the earth in mind. McClellan used all native plantings and says no irrigation will be required to maintain the yard.

To receive its Energy Star certification, the house had to demonstrate a 30 percent reduction in energy usage over a conventionally built home of the same size, but McClellan estimates the home will save its owners as much as 50 percent on energy bills. As far as building costs are concerned, green and energy-efficient design typically adds about 7-10 percent to the total cost, McClellan says, but he points out that the owners will recoup those costs in energy savings within five to seven years.

While the Amelia Park house has been sold, McClellan estimates its resale value in the current market at $480,000.

Deborah R. Huso is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Old House Journal, Country Home and Remodeling Magazine. She’s based in Blue Grass, Va.