Miami Green Homes

Architects versus developers (an architects perspective):

Ideas versus money. That is about the simplest way to distinguish the two and also the easiest way to understand why these two groups need each other. While overlap is of course possible, it is not likely. Developers frequently look at a potential project and create a general concept based on location and possible use of the land. Architects then provide a design concept to realize that opportunity and eventually the detailed plans to actually build the initial vision of the developer. Most projects, residential, commercial or otherwise, were created by the synergy of these two groups.

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An Architect as developer has solved the financial puzzle and can move forward not just with the idea and concept, but the execution of the project as well; a developer as architect first must obtain required licenses and typically look beyond function of the project to integration of concept into a larger scope and environment.

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Design highlights. The Kitchen:

Kitchens are the number one request when looking to improve an existing home and are a vital key feature of any new design. New home projects allow to create kitchens as a feature of the overall style and are comparatively easy to design to the liking of the client.


L-shape kitchen with recessed refrigerator – design by Sebastian Eilert Architecture. More images from this project can be found HERE.

The larger challenge can be found in renovations and additions. In existing home projects, the kitchen typically represents the largest cost item, and the choice between working within the existing area versus potentially relocating the entire thing, is a first and important step to consider. A simple upgrade of finishes rarely is a viable option to bring an outdated kitchen to modern standards. Moving and removing walls to allow for an expansion typically require new plumbing and electrical work. Next are the selection of cabinet and countertop style and color. Styles are primarily defined by the doors and drawer faces as well as support legs, if applicable. Classic shaker, simplified shaker and smooth are some of the most popular choices. Look for our previous post on countertop options beyond the typical Granite.

As for the kitchen itself, the most common are L-shaped, island style, alley or a combination of them. Laying out a kitchen there are a couple of items to consider. In the design world we refer to the “kitchen triangle” as the relation between the refrigerator, the sink and the cooktop or stove; the 3 key items in preparing meals. These items want to relate in such a way that items can be moved, prepared and cooked without having to cross path with other users or long distances. Accidents happen, but when the sink and cooktop are at opposite ends, the probability increases for slips, drips and spills. Other items such as dishwasher, microwave, cleaning utensils and garbage, including separate recycling options, must also be located with thought. A kitchen is as much about looks as it is about function.


typical triangle relations for sink, cooktop and refrigerator.

In the design layout the next choices are whether to have an inward or outward facing kitchen. This depends on the user. Some users like to do their cooking in private and then turn around to entertain. Others prefer to see outward to keep a command center while preparing meals and more. Next, there is the question of incorporated seating; a wonderful functioning option. While the 80’s boasted raised bars to have family and guests peek into the kitchen, modern design is more likely to feature either a larger integrated seating area or a slightly lowered included section of the counter or island at table height.


kitchen with island and lowered seating/eating counter. glass and Quartz countertops – design by Sebastian Eilert Architectrure. More images from this project can be found HERE.

Lastly, there is the question of storage. When possible, a pantry is a great option to house food and other products. Installing a counter in the pantry also allows to get some smaller appliances off the main kitchen counter while keeping them in close proximity for use.

Whatever your choice, work with your design professional to create your dream kitchen. It is after all the heart of the home.

Concrete foundation pour – in progress time lapse

Concrete pour for a large foundation/footing. Steel has been placed and inspected. 

Construction workers actually working! Jokes aside, you can see the setup to pour, the harmony between concrete truck driver and the workers, the vibrator machine to ensure that concrete is packed properly and the general smoothing and leveling of the top. Pretty good work! Pretty large footing. 

For summer, show the ocean a little love
June 17, 2016, 7:24 pm
Filed under: Materials, Resources, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized

(Original list from Sportdiver magazine).

Great little guideline for the summer at the beach or in the water. Help preserve the ocean and reduce plastic waste… diver or not.

  1. Help make “paper or plastic?” an irrelevant question by bringing reusable cloth bags to the stores where you shop.
  2. Cut down on needless waste by refusing plastic straws, single service packaging and other plastic items that you can do without.
  3. Do you start your day with a cup of coffee? Make it at home or ask your coffee-shop server to pour it in a reusable mug.
  4. Next time you hit the beach, apply oxybenzone-free sunscreen to avoid releasing chemicals in the ocean that are harmful to coral reefs.
  5. When you get takeout for lunch avoid plastic cutlery by using reusable utensils you keep in your bag or at your desk.
  6. Turn your next dive into a conservation campaign. Project AWARE makes it east to give back with debris cleanups, fundraisers and more.


Notice Of Acceptance (NOA) – a Miami Dade oddity
January 25, 2016, 1:24 pm
Filed under: Building knowledge, Hot Topic, Materials

If you are building in Miami, South Florida, you may have come across an NOA as part of your required permit documentation. The rest of the country may associate a “Notice of Acceptance” with other things, but for design professionals, builders, and municipalities, this seemingly simple document holds a lot of value for material selection in Miami.

So what exactly is this NOA? It is a document providing results of a test to ensure that any material exposed to hurricane forces complies with an impact criteria as set by the RER (Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources) to ensure compliance with local building codes. Currently the Florida Building Code in South Florida required a compliance with sustained wind speeds of 175mph.

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Sample Notice of Acceptance – for a steel door

The testing protocol is required for any assembly that is on the exterior of the structure, such as wall materials, doors and windows, shutters and roofing… essentially, if it could be hit and damaged during a storm event, it must be tested. How is this tested? In simple terms, the test material manufacturer provides an assembly with every detail as it would be installed in the field and then a 2×4 stud is shot at the assembly at the above noted speed. If it does not break, it passes… and the assembly will be approved for use.

Clients and manufacturers new to this market are frequently amazed by this requirement. Weather events such as Hurricane Sandy will likely promote this application to other parts of the country and the world…as a matter of fact it is already loosely used in the Bahamas.

Here is the link to the Miami Dade NOA portal to search any product for approval:


S.E.A. awarded “Green Historic Preservation Award” by DHT for the Abbott Residence renovation & addition in Coconut Grove.

It is official:
S.E.A. was awarded the “Green Historic Preservation Award” by Dade Heritage Trust for the Abbott Residence renovation and addition in Coconut Grove.
Congratulations to the owner and the team. Thank you for this great honor!


Project Description:

The Abbott Residence is wonderful remodel and addition of a 1916 Grove house located in Coconut Grove. The original estate consisted of a two story residence with extension to kitchen, converted garage and maid’s quarter above, as well as a free standing guest house across the yard. The main building was erected with structural oolitc limestone. The building has a full basement with a concrete cistern that seemed to have been used for the adjacent grove.

The project addition includes a connecting covered breezeway to the guest house. The guest house was enlarged by converting a late addition to match the original roof line and finish. An outdoor BBQ area was also added to the guest house. Since the original garage was converted, a new 2 car trellis carport was added as well as an enlarged and improved entry to the main house. Finally a new outdoor eating area was added outside of the existing kitchen featuring a trellis cover.

The renovation included a full upgrade to the kitchen, new second floor layout including a master suite and 2 additional bedrooms with a jack and Jill bathroom and overall upgrade of the remaining spaces. The project received a full upgrade to the electrical system, improved efficiency HVAC systems and new gas lines.

The project combined a number of my key principles and passions. The historic building and its character were well recognized and maintained throughout design. The addition blends with the original structure to improve the overall feel of the house and site. The traditional building style and proportions are typical for that area in the Grove and South Florida. Coral rock, lots of natural features, including large windows for cross ventilation mark the direction for design.

Project Challenges:

A key challenge to this project was the integration of materials to comply with current code. Items included specifically were the upgrade of the doors and windows. The structure consists of 16” limestone without additional reinforcing and boasts oversized windows and openings to allow for natural light and cross ventilation. Finding a Miami Dade approved window to fit the required size was achieved only in combination with a minor reduction on the opening at the ground level. Further, the anchor into the limerock structure to allow for required anchoring was achieved only with the use of 12” anchor bolts.

As with many historic preservation project, matching the existing style and character of the house requires certain decisions that bring with them an increased price tag. Keeping the overall project in budget while also staying true to the original design and construction of the house was a major challenge.

During renovation, it was discovered that the roof had some damage. As a result, the entire roof was replaced with matching tiles to the original installation. Finding tiles that were compatible and within budget proved to be another challenge. The original chimney at the kitchen wing was structurally supported by the floor and as part of the redesign of the kitchen not feasible to be saved. A smaller version of the chimney was reinstalled to blend into the overall design.

The final challenge of the project was the site layout, landscaping and driveway. Being a rather large and very natural site, it was decided that the landscaping should blend as much as possible and that the driveway should be porous one rather than a solid material. The City of Miami did not initially approve a gravel driveway.


Green Features:

Beyond the green feature inherit by the project being a renovation and thus recycling the original building, there are a number of sustainable features that have been incorporated. The largest component and impact for energy savings was the replacement of all windows and doors. The original windows showed wear and leakage and were replaced with an impact energy savings option. Keeping the original size and location of the windows allow for maximum natural light as well as cross ventilation. This feature was especially welcome during the construction, before the installation of the new energy efficient HVAC units. Insulation was increased in the roof addict to improve the energy performance of the envelope. The interior features non toxic paint and adhesives. The existing wood floors were restored and refinished in the main house.

The site was predominately left undisturbed and native landscaping was installed to further enhance the beauty of the natural Coconut Grove site. The Driveway was lined with reclaimed brick pavers from a portion of the original driveway. Numerous outdoor living areas were added as part of the project scope, to include a new outside dining area at the main house and separate BBQ cover by the guest house. Car storage was designed as a trellis, rather than a garage to provide protection while reducing the amount of new material used as well as to integrate the new structure into the overall design and feel of the site.


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.