Sagely "Green"

By JUDY STARKPublished June 5, 2004

What a difference a decade makes.

Ten years ago when it opened in Sarasota, the Florida House Learning Center was a novelty, a demonstration house built with energy-efficient materials and techniques. Just imagine, a deck made of recycled plastic bags and wood chips. Look at this, a European dishwasher that uses only 4 gallons of water instead of the usual 10 to 14. Hey, check this out: siding made of - what is this, manufactured wood?

Now ads for Trex decking are in all of the shelter magazines, positioning the product as a luxurious addition to a

home, "a place time forever stands still." Every major U.S. appliance manufacturer offers dishwashers and clothes washers that conserve water. Builders routinely use engineered lumber made from shredded wood or junk trees, formed with adhesives under pressure to create structural and finish lumber that is straighter and stronger than what nature produces.

"Novel" then is "no-brainer" now. "Good for you" has given way to "glamorous." Low-flow is the law of the land. Ten years after the Florida House opened, green is mainstream:

* WCI Communities of Bonita Springs, which ranks 37th on the respected Builder magazine list of the nation's top 100 builders, opened a model in Venice recently loaded with energy-saving devices and building materials that make it the greenest house in Florida. Every house built from now on in the 1,300-home Venice Golf & River Club will be certified green, WCI promises.

* Builders at Lakewood Ranch, the huge master-planned community on the Manatee-Sarasota county line, have agreed to build all green homes there in the future, and all the areas the ranch plans to develop in the next three years have won a green designation from the Florida Green Building Coalition.

"It's great. WCI is to be commended," said Drew Smith of Pruett Builders, a luxury home builder based in Sarasota that "went green" years ago and has won many awards for its energy-efficient homes. Smith is a board member of the Green Building Coalition, which developed certification guidelines. "It's great to see a builder as large as WCI take the stance. Between them and Lakewood Ranch making their commitment to building green, it moves the whole effort forward."

Acknowledging the consumer demand and market value of green building, the National Association of Home Builders calls it "the most exciting and significant development in home building in the last three decades." Since 1990, more than 32,000 green homes have been built. Further evidence that building green is now about as mainstream as it gets: The national home builders group just held its sixth annual National Green Building Conference.

Energy-efficient luxury

"There are two reasons why people will spend money on this," said Karen Childress, manager of environmental stewardship for WCI, as she led a tour of the Corregio model, the Casa Verde - "green home" - at Venetian Golf & River Club.

"Health is first," she said. "People are willing to make decisions for a better environment if they know what they are." Consumers want the option of high-performance air filters or paints that don't emit noxious chemicals.

Energy saving is second, she said. They want to know about appliances that use less energy and water. They're interested in energy-efficient mortgages, which let them borrow more money for a house with lower operating costs.

WCI intends to build a green model in every region where it builds, Childress said. The company developed Waterlefe in Bradenton, Walden Lake in Plant City and other luxury waterfront and golf course communities around the state. Last year, WCI had 2,119 closings and was named America's best builder in the large-volume category by Builder magazine.

The Corregio has three bedrooms, a den and two baths in 2,241 square feet of living space. The base price of $299,000 includes a basic green package worth about $3,000: sealed air conditioning ducts, Energy Star appliances, drought-sensitive landscaping, tile roofs, steel wall studs, water-permeable paver driveways, high-efficiency air conditioning and carbon monoxide detectors.

The model includes $86,500 in additional green features buyers can select (no item-by-item breakdown is available) and an additional $234,500 in "aesthetic upgrades," such as the tray ceilings, the crown molding and granite countertops, and the elaborate pool and fountain, which alone cost $75,000. The lot premium is an additional $40,000. Total price tag of the house as shown: $660,000, spokeswoman Pam Cox said.

In the model's garage, displays show some green features and materials up close and demonstrate how they work.

Many of the home's green features and finishes are widely available upgrades that buyers are likely to find desirable under any circumstances: solid wood kitchen cabinets, a whole-house vacuum, automatic faucets, bamboo floors.

Venetian Golf & River Club stretches across 1,039 acres of former pastureland. On a recent Friday afternoon, golfers in carts buzzed around the 18-hole course, where sandhill cranes strutted and where Childress says early morning workers see deer, hogs and hawks. There used to be only about a dozen species of birds on the property, she said, but now 75 species have been documented.

WCI recycles construction waste onsite, creates its own mulch, saved and transplanted trees on the site and added 2,600 trees, including live oaks and magnolias every 50 feet in the residential areas, she said.

"The time will come," Childress predicted, "when it is an advantage to own green rather than "not green.' "

Lower bills, better health

To be certified green by the Florida Green Building Coalition, a home must attain 200 points on the coalition's scale, which covers eight areas: design, energy, water, site, health, materials, disaster mitigation and general. Builders get 100 points for simply fulfilling the requirements of the statewide energy code and earn additional points with environmentally friendly features that may be as simple as additional insulation, more ceiling fans or drought-tolerant landscaping.

The WCI house scored 344 points but can claim only 325 because of category maximums. The basic green house, without the many options and upgrades in the model, meets the minimum 200-point standard.

Because the home opened only in late April, it is too early to say which features buyers will be willing to pay for in their own homes. No one expects that every buyer will choose every option, but the goal is to show that a green home looks just like any other and that it is easy to incorporate environmentally sensitive and energy-saving measures into a home.

At Pruett Builders, Smith said some buyers choose a green home for health reasons, some because they believe such a home will have a higher resale value, and some because they believe a sustainable home will be easier to maintain.

Green features add 3 to 5 percent to the cost of a home, Smith said, but operating costs, such as monthly energy bills, are lower.

The most popular features in Pruett's homes, Smith said, are air conditioning systems with higher efficiency ratings than required by code; whole-house air filters; sprayed-on, expanding-foam insulation; hard-surface floors (wood, tile, marble) rather than carpet; and efficient appliances.

Julie and Richard Aranibar selected all those features when they had Pruett build them the green home at Lakewood Ranch that they moved into last November. Julie, 44, was diagnosed with tuberculosis when she was 10 and spent two years in the hospital. She's asthmatic, and so is son Jon, 9. He and twin sister Jackie have two dogs, Biskit and Molly. Richard, 39, is mindful of the health concerns because he's a pulmonary and critical care physician.

"Before we moved to Florida in 1998, my son used his inhaler twice a day, sometimes three times, for nine months a year. Now he needs it only when he has a cold," said Julie, a former lab supervisor and molecular histologist who is a consultant in her husband's medical practice. In the last year, Jon had one cold that lasted two days, she said. Both Jon and Jackie had

perfect attendance at school this year.

Their utility bills in this 5,500-square-foot house are about the same as or even less than they were in their former home, a well-built 1998 house of 3,000 square feet also at Lakewood Ranch, Julie said.

"Living in a green home means you use energy wisely, like not having an air conditioning unit that's too small so it runs all the time," she said. Their upgraded system has three zones, and each room has its own thermostat.

The air filters and upgraded air conditioning system mean that "everything is filtered, when it comes in and as it circulates around," Julie said. Friends "can't believe their allergies don't bother them here," she said. The house has all tile or wood, no wall-to-wall carpet. Instead of draperies or curtains that catch dust, there are blinds or shutters.

Another plus: "You can go a whole month and the dust just isn't there. My mother-in-law is very impressed. She thinks my dusting technique has improved."

Savvier consumers

"We need to do things right or we won't fulfill our obligation to turn over the planet in reasonable shape to the next generation," said Polly Webb, vice president of marketing at Lakewood Ranch.

This spring, Lakewood Ranch received certification from the Florida Green Building Coalition for the areas where it will focus its development over the next three years: about 3,500 home sites between State Road 70 and University Parkway east of Lorraine Road.

The 14 builders who are active at Lakewood Ranch "are gearing up to certify all homes that are constructed in the future," said Eric Martin, secretary of the coalition.

When the developers approached the builders about going green, "Their response was, "Funny, we've been thinking about the same thing,' " Webb said. Changes in the statewide building code and in building practices meant many of them were already building green without realizing it.

They wanted to make sure that building green wouldn't price them out of the market for first-time and family buyers. Consumers, Webb said, "are willing to trade off a little bit of expense for family health": fewer colds, fewer problems with allergies or

asthma. "They're willing to be more energy-efficient because they'll see a payback. They're willing to trade off some materials in their yards to reduce their watering bills."

Webb predicted the day will come when builders can't not build green because it will have become an industry standard that consumers expect. No longer an extreme or extraordinary practice, green building is now synonymous in buyers' minds with quality, health, comfort and energy efficiency, she said.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, she said, people scoffed at the notion that someday buyers would ask about the R-value of their insulation or the efficiency rating of their air conditioners, but now they routinely do. "This is something that happens not overnight, but over time. It's something that has come of age."

To learn more

The green house at Venetian Golf & River Club is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Directions: Take Interstate 75 south to Exit 195, Laurel Road. Turn east left on Laurel Road and drive about 11/2 miles to the community, on the left. Information: toll-free 1-800-924-4486; or

The Florida Green Building Coalition is a nonprofit organization of builders, architects, suppliers and representatives from real estate, government, academia and other disciplines that establishes certification guidelines for environmentally responsible building. The Web site

The Florida House Learning Center is at 4600 Beneva Road S, on the grounds of the Sarasota County Technical Institute. From I-75, take Exit 207 and turn west right on Bee Ridge Road. At the sixth stop light (2.7 miles west of the interstate), turn left onto Beneva Road. At the second stop light, turn right onto Proctor Road and turn into the first driveway on t

he right onto the grounds of SCTI. Turn right at the stop sign and follow the road around to the Florida House. Information: (941) 316-1200. Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Web site:http://sarasota.extension.ufl.

edu/FHLC/flahouse.html Current displays include nine kinds of exterior walls (structural insulated panels, autoclaved aerated block, insulated concrete forms, more). Later this month, every window and door will be outfitted with a different kind of hurricane protection so consumers can view the options in one place.