Miami Green Homes

DIY HVAC Maintenance: What’s Safe and What to Avoid! – by Ray Flynn

Thank you to Ray Flynn ( for this guest contribution:

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Photo courtesy of Pexels

Being a homeowner is a wonderful investment that brings many fulfilling rewards. Of course, it also brings many (often unexpected) costs. From plumbing to electrical issues, there are hundreds of home repairs that could break the bank. Unfortunately, HVAC repairs could be one of them. HVAC repair technicians charge up to $80 per hour, and the repairs themselves can cost hundreds of dollars. Some Miami homeowners spend thousands, depending upon the types of repairs.

Of course, it’s inevitable that every HVAC will eventually be in need of repairs. Adding further complication, some HVAC-related costs can be tax deductible while others are not. So, what is a homeowner to do? One option that many homeowners are considering more frequently is just doing it themselves. It’s no secret that do-it-yourself (DIY) home repair projects are gaining popularity, especially among women.

Before You Begin

Before embarking upon a DIY HVAC maintenance project, however, there are a few things you should know. First, actual HVAC repairs should still be left to the professionals. Otherwise, you might damage your HVAC even further and end up having to pay a professional for costly repairs anyway — or worse, an entirely new HVAC system.

Instead, the best HVAC projects to attempt on your own are fairly simple maintenance projects. When it comes to maintaining your HVAC system, there are certainly a few things you can do on your own without needing to call a professional.

Change Your Filter

Proper maintenance of your HVAC system requires that you periodically change (between 30 and 90 days) the air filter. The air filters prevent airborne particles from getting into the HVAC machinery, where they could potentially cause damage. Failure to change HVAC filters could lead to permanent damage and expensive repairs.

Here’s one bit of advice: Although changing your HVAC air filter every so often is fairly simple, choosing the right size filter when making a replacement is essential. That cannot be stressed enough. Turn off the unit before replacing the filter, and always follow the instructions for your particular HVAC unit. If you run into any difficulties, call a professional to help you.

Clean Your Unit

Another thing you might have to occasionally do is clean your HVAC system. From time to time, dirt, debris, leaves, and other natural contaminants can get inside the machinery. If these items aren’t removed in a timely manner, they can clog things up.

Additionally, while you are inspecting your HVAC system for dirt and debris or changing the air filter, you might want to give it a good cleaning. This involves checking for any holes, leaks, or blockages, inspecting the fans for wear, and wiping down and cleaning the outside of the unit.

A few more simple maintenance tips and DIY repairs to consider might include changing the blower filter at least twice a year (or more, if you live in a dusty climate), adding a programmable thermostat to help make your home more energy efficient, and cutting back any vines or other vegetation that might be growing near your HVAC system.

It’s important to care for your HVAC system. By taking proper care of it, changing the filters, and performing regular maintenance as needed, you can keep your HVAC system running reliably for years to come. Best of all, these are DIY tasks that you can do yourself, which saves you some money by not having to call a professional. But if you’re new to home improvement and/or if any repairs are actually needed, those jobs are best left to the professionals. It’s never worth harming your HVAC system just for the sake of saving a few hundred dollars.


Residential Energy Savings pyramid

Not sure where to start with energy updated for the home? Ready to install PV panels to get off-grid? …or anywhere in-between. This is a great tool to help make sense of where to start and how to prioritize energy related updates to the house. Look also for other posts on this site for solar panels, insulation and design considerations.

2017-06-29 12.27.36


A Green “Home Away From Home”

Becoming environmentally conscious has emerged as a main concern of homeowners, business owners, and the government over the past decade. Green homes, with lower potable water consumption, less energy use, and better building materials are sprouting up all over the world and commercial businesses are following their lead. All of the basics of sustainability easily transfer from one building type, making the possibility for green hotels possible.

  1. Form an environmental committee- This committee will develop a plan for energy, water, and solid waste use.
  2. Monitor electric, water, gas, and waste usage- This should be done monthly and annually. This will also help the hotel determine which of the following should be addressed first and in what order.
  3. Install digital thermostats in hotel rooms and throughout hotel and replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents- These two go hand-in-hand. It is a matter of simple installation. Using the CFL bulbs saves on energy costs, as well as using the digital thermostat. Many hotels inEuropeare using a technique to limit use of air systems and light by requiring that the key card be put in an activation port in order for the lights to be on. This means that when the patron leaves the hotel room and takes their key card out of the port, the lights and air turn off and remain off until the patron returns and put the key card back in the port.
  4. Implement towel reuse program- Many hotels have begun using this technique to save on laundry water used. By hanging up the towel after use, the patron is indicating they will reuse their towel. If the towel is on the ground, housekeeping is expected to remove and wash the towel. For guests staying at a hotel for more than one night, it makes sense to save the towel and wait until it has been used more than once before placing it on the floor to be replaced by a clean one.
  5. Install 2.5-gpm (gallons per minute) showerheads or less in all guestrooms and employee shower areas- Low-GPM shower heads conserve a lot of water and in a building like a hotel where showering can occur every minute of the day, these shower heads work to decrease water used significantly.
  6. Install 1.6-gallon toilets in all guestrooms- Switching from a standard to a low flow toilet can save thousands of gallons of water per year. There are also toilets with two different flush options, one of which cycles out the water, the other flushes all waste.
  7. Implement a recycling program, for light bulbs, batteries, etc.
  8. Purchase Energy Star appliances- These could be the washer and dryer used for sheets and towels, dishwashers, refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners, and much more. A complete list of Energy Star products can be found at:
  9. All office paper products should have 20% or more post-consumer recycled content

These many different ideas for going green in a hotel environment also apply to green homes, office buildings, schools, and healthcare. The basic ingredients to saving energy require making small changes, whose payoffs can be great in the long run. Hotels require large maintenance and energy costs, and even if going green isn’t the main concern, these methods save money, allowing for lower operating costs.

(SE, EB, edit JLD)

The scent of building, or what is that construction smell…?

Construction sites are not the most pleasant places for both the workers and those around them. They create lots of noise [machinery], smells [ah, roof tar!] and debris [smoke, ash, fumes, etc.]. But fear not. There are many ways for a construction site to be managed that can decrease all of these effects on the surrounding area and its inhabitants and diminish the pollution created by the building process.

  1. Is there a chalky smell in your home or apartment after construction is finished? This is caused by dust buildup. This isn’t your average dust. It’s not dead skin or hair (eww!) but is rather , material shavings from materials like Sheetrock or ceramic tile. When ceramic tile is being cut for a bathroom, for example, the dust gets trapped in the ventilation. Or how about when you go through the final sanding process after mudding your drywall. First, trying to cover your furntiture, beds, countertops (anything you come into contat with on a daily basis) with a nice layer of Visqueen (that heavy duty plastic meant to keep your stuff safe. I also recommend buying a canister vacuum to get the dust out or suck it all in but then be sure to empty the canister in an outdoor area (not in the same place you just cleaned up).. Sometimes, you just have to let the vacuum remain in one place for 30 seconds in order to attract all the dust.
  2. How do you handle noise pollution? Just because workers are up bright and shiny at 7 am doesn’t mean that the neighbors are ready to face the day.  Loud equipment, delivery trucks and the ever-dreaded jackhammer create a most undesirable symphony that is simply diffiult to avoid.  But, there are ways to alleviate the problem. Creating a construction plan that allows for the loudest of jobs to be executed during the middle to the end of the day helps for sure and reminding staff that everyone does not appreciate the latest in salsa or R&B.
  3. The garbage accumulated on a construction site is made up of food, bottles, construction debris, and general packaging. Creating a recycling program helps to separate this debris. Garbage pickup on a site can be expensive, so by setting up a recycling program you don’t incur the costs of added containers and you help alleviate those back-to-back days of paella delivery. Some cities even pay you for your recycled bottles. Another way to alleviate the amount of garbage is to provide your workers with metal bottles, such as a Sigg ( These bottles are reusable, can be dropped from high heights without being damaged and save the environment.
  4. Some common construction smells also include gasses and fumes. These come from paints, treated woods, some metals, old  toilets, and even the construction equipment. The machines used on a construction site tend to run on gas which releases black clouds of smoke into the air. Many cities and states have made the use of machines that create these gas clouds illegal, so it is good practice to look into the more efficient and friendly alternatives. The fumes can also come from paints. High-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints tend to release noxious odors that damage brain cells and release harmful gasses into the environment. Low-VOC paint is the same price as the high-VOC paint, lasts just as long, and is just as durable, so why not make the switch?
  5. Another odor causing element of a construction site is standing water. Puddles and small pools can form during the excavation process (which releases unpleasant smells into the air ras well) and these pools, when left sitting for too long, begin to smell sulfurous. This is especially true is places like Miami which is situated right on top of its water table.  These puddles should be drained from time to time in order to avoid them becoming either a stink pool or a breeding ground for insects such as mosquitoes.

Insulation – a key component for energy efficient green buildings.
August 15, 2011, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Air Quality, Building knowledge, Energy Efficiency

Insulation is one of the most important aspects to consider when looking at the energy performance and potential savings for your project. Especially on residential projects, the standard code required insulation is quite insufficient and leaves much room for improvement.

When thinking about improved energy improvement and especially the introduction of alternative or renewable energy, insulation is key as most of the energy is lost at the envelope of the building: the roof and the walls. If a building has an energy consumption of 100 units and produces 60 units with alternative energy, there are still 40 units to be paid each month.
Insulation, very high efficient appliances and HVAC as well energy star rated doors and windows can bring the unit use to 50. Not the same 60 units created actually pay back the owner… insulation is the key to make this equation work.

Beyond energy savings, choosing the right insulation may also contribute to better air quality. Even though most of the particles find their way into the air during construction, some insulation, such as batt insulation used for energy or sound barriers, can easily be released through simple repairs or even installation of picture nails and hooks.

There are so many options these days to look at insulation for the building. Bonded logic produces a series called Ultra Touch, which uses post-consumer blue jeans. Not just great insulation, but also bonus points for recycled content. Blow in cellulose insulation is formaldehyde and VOC free while diverting 300 tons of denim per month away form landfills. The R value can go up 30. Not a bad option (

Another fully sustainable alternative would be recycled wool, loose-fill insulation, such as the oregano shepherd line that provides up to r-4 per inch (

There are more sustainable alternatives without going all the way to fully recycled or reclaimed materials. Formaldehyde free fiberglass comes in the traditionally familiar batt and roll variety with values from 11-38. Rigid foam panels also come in less toxic options, as does spray in insulation. Johns Manville and Owens Corning now offer environmental lines of product.

Personally I prefer a spray in system such as Icynene, Greenfiber or Certainteed. These systems use soy based or cellulose blows insulation that not just is easy t install and will literally fill the very last crack, but it also lets the access material be recycled on the spot, virtually eliminating any waste during construction.

It is important to seal all cracks, even if they are only a fraction of an inch. A small gap next to the insulation may appear minimal, but consider adding all those little cracks up to one large opening. This hole is typically about 3 square feet. Would you leave a 3 square feet hole in your wall? Probably not, so seal it. Knauf is a good option for these cracks as are other weatherization techniques.

When tackling your next project or upgrade, think of the insulation and realize quick savings in your energy bill. For further questions, contact your design professional. Sebastian Eilert Architecture. 786.556.3118

A primer on doors, windows and weatherproofing in South Florida

Doors and windows do more than just bring natural light into our homes. They offer a wonderful opportunity to clean out the inside air and enjoy the lovely weather, especially in times like these, when the South Florida winter actually allows for us to do so.

Often I hear in conversation when the temperatures drop that friends run home and open the windows to get a fresh breeze and escape the air conditioned air for a few days or weeks.

Door and windows indeed serve many purposes. There is the connection to the outside as noted with air and light, they provide security to keep unwanted intruders and critters out of the home and they do significantly affect the energy consumption of your space.

A good roof with ample insulation and other external finishes do come first, but the next line of defense are the doors and windows. These are typically the areas where we can control the amount of air moving between the inside and the outside. During hot summer month heat easily leaks through the crevasses and raises the overall amount of inside air to be cooled. Proper installation or weatherization is key to ensure that these much appreciated openings do not contribute to your energy bill. If you have new doors and windows installed, ensure that they are properly caulked and that there are not wholes on the edges. If the windows and doors are exiting go through the frames and caulk them where you have holes or consider weather-strips for the joints. These are very inexpensive fixes that will make a difference. Do not think so? Consider this: if you only have a few air leaks along the frame one could argue that is it minimal and more air goes out of the house just be opening the front door to exit the house. In itself this is a correct thought, HOWEVER. Consider the number of small openings that you have all around the house. Now take them all and merge them into one single opening. This whole will likely be 1 to 3 square feet. Would you like to leave a permanent 12” x 12” whole in your house? That is in essence what improper installation and weatherization does. So before the temperatures rise again, take a moment to check your doors and windows and seal them or get professional help, if preferred.

If thinking about replacing your old leaky windows and doors, this is a great move to help with your energy savings. Consider the basic option for windows (same applies for doors):

A Standard window will be well constructed and reduce significantly the amount of leakage over older ones. To comply with building code hurricane requirements, a standard window does require the installation of shutters.

An impact window is more expensive than a standard window but will eliminate the need for shutters, as it complies with the building code. Impact (high velocity impact) windows also have the added benefit of security as a simple brick or other tool will not break the glass to allow access into the house. Furthermore, impact windows do allow to maintain visual connection during the event of a hurricane.

An energy star window, typically a Low E gas filled window, focuses on reduced heat transmission. Energy star windows are also more expensive than standard windows but will significantly contribute to your energy savings. Consider energy windows especially if your glazing area faces south, southwest or west.

As an alternative to energy star windows tints may be installed over standard windows. I generally do not recommend tints as they are not part of the manufacturers assembly and therefore tend to peal and crack over time. Tints also have some aesthetic drawbacks as well as cleaning challenges. They are a great option for economical quick fixes.

Impact Energy Star windows are the most expensive option but do give you a great deal of benefits; from security to energy savings. They are always my recommended option, if the budget allows for it.

Finally, let’s look at the different styles of windows. Most windows are either wood, alumni or vinyl. There are also combinations of wood with metal cladding and other constellations. Wood windows are without a doubt the most appealing and impressive option, but do require some ongoing maintenance, especially in the South Florida climate. Most economical windows in this part of the country are aluminum windows with manufacturers like PGT (used in the Chamber South project) and CGI (local manufacturer) providing a good value. Aluminum windows easily comply with anchoring requirements are also very easy to install.

PGT Impact Window at Chamber South


Besides the material, there are a few options to consider for style. The two main options are:

Single hung windows are a basic slider, mostly up and down. About 40% of the window actually opens and about 80% has glazing. They are the most economical option and are operated completely manually by simply sliding half of the panel. Connections on single hung windows do tend to wear out and weatherization is important to maintain.

Casement windows are constructed by having the full glass area in a frame that sits in another frame which is attached to the building. The inner frame is hinged on one side and thus fully operational. Casement windows provide about 80% glazing and 85% opening. The weak point for these windows are the hinges to operate the inner frame. They provide an even better weather seal than single hung windows and are easily maintained.

Casement and fixed combination window


Other forms of windows are fixed, awning (these are multiple glazing frames that are operated on a hinge and open forward and out, very typical in older Florida homes) and bay windows (typically a combination of fixed and casement).

Ready to tackle your window upgrade? Miami Dade County does require a permit for window and door replacement. SEA is ready to help with your project.


Weatherization Package from SEA.

After going over so many possible options to improve the energy efficiency for your home I find it time to put together an official weatherization package.

 There are plenty of rebates currently available and even more are coming in the next few weeks and months. This is indeed a great time to look at energy improvements for your home and small business.  Not just will you be able to significantly improve your operating cost, but the Government will help you pay for it. The upcoming incentives are certainly a positive aspect of the recovery act that has found its way to the end consumer.

In other posts we already looked at LED’s, appliances and general saving, specifically relating to South Florida. Please look at the “Greening your South Florida Home, Part I, Part II and Part III.

 A concise Weatherization package should include at a minimum the analysis of the windows and doors, insulating in the walls and especially in the roof and attic. These simple primary starting points can lead to substantial savings in a very short time by controlling your building envelope. Energy savings do not end with the way you use your shell; it is only the beginning.

Consider additional energy and water savings with other improvements such as HVAC update and roof replacement. There are also rebates to update your water heater, dishwasher and refrigerator.

The homestar retrofit rebate package is the governments’ incentive under the Recovery act to provide partial funding for improvements for homeowner for reducing their energy bills. Regardless of this package, there are many sensible options to improve the use of energy in your home.

 More information about the Homestar pacakage can also be found here.

If you need additional help and like a project specific analysis, please contact me:

Sebastian Eilert, AIA, LEED AP