Miami Green Homes

A look at Biofuel
June 26, 2012, 3:12 am
Filed under: Energy Efficiency, Hot Topic, Resources

Biofuel can be broken down into fuel made from plants. There are many forms; however, there are a few to focus on. Ethanol, Biodiesel, and Biomass have come to the forefront over the past 10 years, and have even caught the attention of the government. With increasing environmental concern, the government has shifted some focus to the creation and use of biofuel to take the strain off of fossil fuel use. In the U.S. alone, 138 million gallons of oil are consumed a year.

Ethanol is made from corn or sugar cane. It is utile is many different scenarios, from cars to airplanes. Most gas fuel nowadays is made with 10% ethanol, and is marked with an E10 on the pump. This make the gasoline around 6% less efficient than if it were solely gasoline. For airplanes, such as those used by Continental and Lufthansa, the fuel is 50% ethanol, and although it is better for the environment, it is 2.5 times more expensive. In the case of the airlines, it is solely for publicity and has no monetary benefit whatsoever. As previously mentioned, ethanol is made from corn or cane sugar. The process, however, is debated. Is takes three gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol, and fossil fuels are used in the process as well. Although the process of refining corn into ethanol isn’t the most efficient, the amount of exhaust reaching the ozone is significantly smaller. Over the past ten years, this process has evolved to become more and more efficient and with time ethanol will prove to be a solid alternative to gasoline.

The main points politicians and environmentalists are making are that ethanol can be domestically produced, it is renewable, and it is cleaner burning than gasoline. Ethanol, when burned, releases up to 80% less toxins into the air, creating less pollution. The fact that ethanol can be produced domestically also helps to decrease its cost in that we are not paying for transportation from, say, the middle east.

A company in Wyoming called KL Process Design Group is now using woodchips instead of corn to product ethanol. It is believed that the waste to fuel industry will become stronger than the crop to fuel industry.

Other forms of biofuel are biodiesel, made from vegetable oil, and biomass, made from burning plant or tree matter to generate electricity. This process is very common throughout California, Maine, and Michigan.

The biofuel industry has created a much greater demand for crops in the United States, as 33% of the U.S. corn crop goes to ethanol production, and in doing so, the farming industry has become a stronger force. With this great demand, American farmers have seen much improvement in their earnings. But this also comes at a cost. With a third of the corn crop being dedicated to fuel production, the price for corn has increased, as well as many others. So what is better? Planting corn for fuel, or planting corn for food? This debate has been rallied all over the world, as European countries follow suit. Ethanol uses a lot of water, and a lot of crop to create little product, but the positive effects the change to ethanol provides for the environment as the rest of the worlds fossil fuels and resources has over the past ten years overshadowed the increase in price of corn.

The environment has become a central concern of the government as well as the people, so with these fuel processes evolving over time, the negative effects and consequences of biofuel production will eventually reach next to nothing.


Water Heaters: Solar versus On Demand/tankless
June 18, 2012, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Energy Efficiency, Materials, Resources, Sustainable Living, Water Efficiency

Solar water heaters have been replacing gas water heaters over the past ten years at a rapid pace. Consumer interest in them is not solely for the tax credits, but also for their economic payback with cheaper bills and startup costs.

The pros and cons for gas and solar water heaters are lengthy so there are a few things one needs to know when weighing the idea of solar. Solar powered heaters come in many different forms but typically consist of a collector and a heater.

There are three different types of collectors:

-Flat Plate Collector- This collector is an insulated and weatherproof box with a dark absorber plate underneath glass or plastic covers. They are similar to those used to heat swimming pools.

-Integral Collector Store Systems-These are also known as ICS or batch systems. They are made up of black storage tanks and tubes in a similar insulated box. Cold water passes through the solar collector first, heating up the water just a little, and then proceeds on to the backup water heater. This keeps a consistent source of hot water, and is more reliable. However, they are not good in cold climates as the tubes could freeze.

-Evacuated Tube Solar Collectors- These are made up of rows of clear glass tubes. Each tube has a metal absorber tubs which absorbs solar energy but inhibits radiant heat loss.

There are two types of active solar water heating systems:

-Direct Circulation Systems- pumps circulate household water through the collectors and into the home. This does not work in freezing climates.

-Indirect Circulation Systems- The pumps use a heat-transfer liquid and a heat exchanger. They are better for freezing temperatures.










Passive solar water heating systems tend to be less expensive and more reliable than active systems, but they are less efficient as well.

-Integral Collector Storage Passive Systems- This systems does not work well in freezing climates. They are very efficient with daytime and nighttime hot-water.

-Thermosyphon Systems- With this system, water flows through the system when warm water rises as cooler water sinks. These are less expensive than the previously mentioned passive system. The storage tank is heavy, however, so the contractor has to pay special attention to the roof of the home.










After learning a little bit about how the solar water heater systems work, it is important to weigh the pros and cons.

These systems range from $1,500 to $3,500. Gas systems cost between $150 and $450. This difference in price is significant and one must also consider the installation costs of the solar system which can run up to $2,000 plus regular maintenance costs.

Having explained costs, the solar systems last around the same as the gas systems yet they’re payback happens in four to eight years when you weigh gas vs. electrical bills. This means that within four to eight years, it is as though you are not paying for hot water anymore.

Another bonus can be found in tax credits. For any system installed after December 31, 2008, there is no maximum to the possible tax credit. Energy Star also has their own line of solar water heaters, which provides a full line of commercial and domestic energy efficient products.

Solar water heaters are not all mighty, however, and do have their fair share of negatives. For starters, the maximum water temperature that can be reached is lower than that of a regular on-demand system and the heating process tends to be slower.

The reliance on weather also provides a hurdle as the unit needs sunlight to produce the hot water. Many of the newer systems have a backup system to negate this.

One of the biggest concerns is their water storage tank. These can get quite large and if a contractor does not install them properly, there is risk of the roof getting damaged, as well as the interior of the home.

All of the negative aside, solar powered water heaters prove to be an economically feasible and friendly option for homeowners who plan to stay in the same home for an extended period of time and reap the benefits of the payback.

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)

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

Water Issues – part II
August 11, 2011, 12:07 am
Filed under: Energy Efficiency, Hot Topic, Water Efficiency

Water remains my favorite and most important issue when addressing green building
concerns. It is certainly not the most important topic when looking at the
various certification checklists, like the USGBC LEED rating system. It finally
received a prerequisite in the last update, but is dwarfed in the overall point
scale by considerations for energy and materials.

Energy indeed has gotten a lot of attention in the last few months, especially the
concept of net-zero energy. The net zero concept is very appealing by taking
advantage of the existing infrastructure rather than having to create a full
independent power storage unit. Typically the consumption averages out to zero
over the term of a 12 month period.

The same concept can be used for the consumption of water; essentially creating an onsite
water filter systems. Water will not be able to quite be net zero, due to
evaporation and other environmental factors that are undoubtedly part of the
cleaning process. But a recycled water loop will probably be about 95%
effective. The remaining 5% can easily be made up by rain water or a well,
depending on the geographic location of the project.

The interesting part to me is the energy that is required to move and clean water.
By bringing this aspect of water use directly to the project, much energy can
be saved on the moving of water to and from the project and the reality of net
zero energy and water is much more realistic to attain.

Considering now, that in California for example about one third of the state’s energy is
used to clean and transport water, it does seem a little like putting the stick
before the carrot…

I am grateful to be part of a cutting research project at the University of Miami
that is addressing this very topic: The net zero water dorm. This project will
have move students into a retrofitted hall to be the live users of on-site
cleaned water – all water, from sinks, showers and toilets.

What can you do for your own project? Continue to focus on water reduction in daily
use and install conservation features in your renovation and new construction.
Dual flush toilets or even composting toilets are readily available. Low flow
shower heads and faucets are standard for all manufacturers and a rain
collection system such as simple rain barrel can be installed in any project.

Use the best suited system for water heating, be it on demand, solar or
conventional tank with a PV panel to power it. By using water intelligently,
the use of energy can also be reduced. Why not be the first house to clean your
own water?

Start your own water conserving project with

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.


November 1, 2010, 6:23 pm
Filed under: Building knowledge, Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Living

I was blessed to contribute to the success of the PV retrofit installation, believed to be the first non self adhesive installation in Miami Dade County. The project is a huge success and serves as a wonderful example of what one day each and every home could look and function like. This is the resource page form the owner and below is the Press Release for the project. Please share and spread the word, so we can continue to install many PV systems in South Florida.

Contact SEA for Help with your Solar Project.

“March 12, 2009; MIAMI. Everyone held their breath and watched as the dial on the electric meter began to slow down, stop, and then reverse direction. With the flip of a switch, Todd Cooper’s family reached the culmination of 14 months of hard work towards a passion for sustainability. Their new photovoltaic system was finally installed and operational, and thanks to the clear sunny day, was already saving money and reducing their carbon footprint. The Village of Palmetto Bay now has its first fully permitted residential solar energy system.

Todd and his wife Omi Diaz-Cooper, who own Miami ad agency Diaz & Cooper Advertising, embarked on their quest nearly a decade ago as their increasing concern about their impact on the environment planted the seed that would grow into a commitment to reducing their ecological footprint. What started as recycling, buying organic, and reducing the use of chemical cleaners gradually evolved into installing better insulation, high-efficiency appliances and compact florescent lights and eventually a home vegetable garden and compost pile in 2008. This led to a solar hot water system, which reduced their energy bill by nearly $100 a month and paved the way for their full photovoltaic array.

With the cost of energy rising and nearly unanimous scientific consensus about the effects of carbon emissions on global climate change, a solar power system offers an effective way to harness the endless energy provided by the sun, especially in sunny South Florida. Of course going from an average summer FPL bill of over $485 to less than $250 certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

“It has really permeated both our personal and professional lives,” said Cooper. Todd and Omi have also purchased a hybrid vehicle and are working to move their business into a sustainable building built from recycled shipping containers.

The 22 installed panels fully mounted on the roof of the Cooper home

The 22 installed panels fully mounted on the roof of the Cooper home

Though Florida is the “Sunshine State”, the current lack of residential solar energy systems leaves many municipalities lacking a structured permitting system for installing photovoltaic cells. Though this made the approval and installation process rather lengthy, the payoff was well worth the effort.

Inspiration came first from Todd’s father, Thomas T. Cooper Sr., A.I.A. who is also the architect of the new office building. Cooper Sr. is a decorated architect whose highly energy-efficient home in Jensen Beach has drawn praise in both the professional and local communities. He helped design the solar energy system and provided the technical drawings needed for the permit process.

Several others were also valuable contributors to the process, including electric engineer Tomas Armstrong, P.E., who donated his services because he is a strong believer in solar energy, and sustainable design architect Sebastian Eilert, who consulted with the Cooper’s when they hit roadblocks in the permitting process. The gracious help of Commissioner Katie Sorenson and her aide, Sean McCracken, was also invaluable to securing the building permit and proceed with the installation.

The array on the roof, installed by Solar Energy Systems, consists of 22 photovoltaic panels and safely generates 5 kilowatts of clean, renewable energy to help power the Cooper home. “Anything we don’t use is pumped back into the grid the same way it would from a nuclear or coal plant,” said Todd. Up until about 6 months ago, FPL would only pay 30 to 40 cents on the dollar for this electricity, but now they pay full price, and with the federal rebates it is a good investment for the family as well.

“We’ve come along way from discussing the idea around the dinner table over a year ago, and in a few years, we’ll start seeing a real return on our investment” Todd notes, “but for now the knowledge that we’re doing what we can for the environment is more than enough.”

More about this:

Solar Energy Systems putting the finishing touches on the installation process
Solar Energy Systems putting the finishing touches on the installation process

About Diaz & Cooper Advertising

Founded in April of 2001, Diaz & Cooper is a Miami-based agency providing multi-media communications and advertising services to national and international clientele. For more information, visit