Wanting Not To Waste

New Sarasota home-building company integrates would-be tear-down house into a green new residence. By HAROLD BUBIL

REAL ESTATE EDITOR harold.bubil@heraldtribune.com

Having spent his first career in waste management, Steve Ellis wasn't about to trash a 1,000-square-foot house at 1876 Goldenrod St. Sure, other developers might have considered it a tear-down and sent it off to the landfill in metal boxes -- another 200 or so cubic yards of concrete, wood and plaster for the ever-growing pile that is yesterday's Sarasota.

But Ellis and his business partner, Grant Castilow, knew that would not be the green thing to do. So instead, through their company, MyGreenBuildings, they renovated the rock-solid old house to green standards and added 1,100 square feet to it. In the process, they minimized the amount of waste through recycling and created a house that rates, pending confirmation from the Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC), as the second-greenest in Florida.

"It paints the picture that taking an existing (house) and renovating it could actually get you a greener house than building new," said Drew Smith of Two Trails Inc., who performs third-party certifications of houses for the FGBC. One reason for that is saving the "embedded energy" -- the harvesting, manufacturing, distributing and constructing -- that it took to build the original house decades ago.

With features that include soy-based attic insulation, hot-water recirculation equipment and high-efficiency air-conditioning, the house scored 303 on the FGBC scale of 400. Only a model house built by WCI Communities in Venetian Golf and River Club has scored higher, in the 320s, said Smith.

Ellis had no idea the house, completed in March, would score that high when MyGreenBuildings was profiled in the Herald-Tribune's business section in November. But after just three months of construction, the numbers came back surprisingly good, said Ellis.

"That just blows me away," he said. "I totally did not expect that. It's just these extra little things we did, and it's not like it took us a lot of time. This whole entire job, we finished in three months. Our subs may have been crawling all over each other, but they loved it, they were psyched about the work and felt like they were part of something a little bit different."

They could hardly have felt otherwise, considering the Goldenrod property was posted with a prominent sign that read: "This jobsite is designated GREEN. Minimal impact to the environment. Construction & demolition waste diversion. Reduce, reuse or recycle. Recycling bins for all metals, plastic, concrete, lumber."

"They did a phenomenal job of taking an existing house and reuse materials ... and come out with a product that is probably far superior," said Smith.

The look of green

At a recent seminar on green building at Selby Gardens, Ellis asked his audience, "What does a green house look like?" The answer, he told them: "A green house really doesn't look like anything other than a house that's as nice as you want it to look."

The house's open floor plan, which seamlessly integrates with three private outdoor spaces, is testament to Ellis' belief that a luxury lifestyle can be sensibly lived in a modestly sized space.

"Not only can you have a super-efficient home, as green as it gets, but also you can live really well," said Ellis. "It doesn't have to have this massive profile. It doesn't have to be 5,000 square feet.

"Most people don't have that conception (when touring the Goldenrod house), because it lives bigger than 2,100 square feet," he added. "You incorporate the outdoors in a way that makes sense. You don't have to start from scratch and scrape the house."

Ellis paid $430,000 for the house and lot, which is in the prestigious "flower streets" neighborhood west of the Tamiami Trail. The property is on the market at $815,000, or about $388 per square foot of air-conditioned space.

He's in it to make a profit.

"I'm not a tree-hugger," Ellis said. "I'm a businessman and an entrepreneur. I've totally bought into the fact that we need to do something about our environment. To me, this is just building with the best available technology."

Among the structure's green methods and materials:

Soy-based spray-foam attic insulation, chosen because it doesn't off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), that yields an R-20 insulation rating.

A poured-in-place wall system, from E-Wall (Efficient Wall Systems), tested to 280 mph windloads and three times more energy-efficient than concrete block.

Low-flow plumbing fixtures and native landscaping to reduce water usage; rain barrels for storm water.

The use of reclaimed doors, brick pavers and other building materials. Replaced building materials were harvested at the job site for donation to Habitat for Humanity or other charities.

Energy Star-rated appliances and windows.

Zero- and low-VOC paints and caulks for enhanced indoor air quality.

Compact fluorescent light blubs that use a fifth the energy to create the same amount of light as incandescent bulbs.

High-efficiency Puron heat pump with UV light filtering of air pollutants.

Sealed attic and AC ductwork in conditioned space.

Paperless drywall to reduce the risk of mold, which feeds on paper.

Solar water heating.

"They had a little bit of an advantage because they were able to take the ceiling out (of the original structure) and spray-foam the whole ceiling," said Drew Smith, "which helped on their energy score, and they replaced all the windows. ... Everything was brought down to block walls and started from scratch."

Smith agrees with Ellis that such green whole-house recycling could become a trend.

"Give it a few years and the new cool thing to have is going to be an eco-friendly home," said Ellis.