Miami Green Homes


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.

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Design highlights. The Dining Room:

The dining room is becoming an increasingly extinct animal, the formal dining room, that is. In recent years very few projects in our practice, new homes or renovations, included this once mandatory space. While the dining table is certainly a key feature of any home, the formal space to host it, is not.

The first question to answer when thinking about the dining room, is to identify the need and want of the user. Large families, extended families and those seeking to maintain traditional schedules may want to consider keeping this designated space. Most however, see the formal dining room as a space used 2-3 times a year, usually for Thanksgiving and during the holidays with the rest of the year serving as glorified storage.

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For the latter, the dining room has evolved into an open concept space planning that is hosting the table, much more integrated into the other living areas. It is not an isolated space, but rather part of the overall daily use of space. Here the dining table serves many functions over the actual room. Homework, breakfast, dinner, family meetings… all gather around this space before moving over to the couch next to it.

As a further evolution, we have done projects that incorporated a table height seating area into a kitchen island. This is a great alternative for areas with limited space. See our post on kitchens, for more.

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If you decide to keep the formal dining room space, there are a few considerations to address. First, what is the size of the table for maximum use. Typically a table is in daily use for a small number of people, but when gatherings occur, this number can easily double or triple: Plan for the maximum “extended” table to ensure that everyone can move around the chairs comfortably. A chair position should be around 18” to the back with at least another 24” when someone is sitting in it and another wants to pass behind. A 10 person dining table should be 3’- 4’ wide and about 10’ long. Plus seating at each end, makes the preferred minimum size for a dining room 18’ long. The more people are anticipated, this can easily grow to 24’. A ratio of 2 to 3, length to width provides a good balance.

Next consider the butler or other form of commode to be located at either the head end or the side, depending on layout. Will this be used for fine china storage? Serving for events? Other storage? Enough space must be allocated for furniture and access accordingly.

Finally, consider lighting. A great dining room wants a great chandelier. In addition to the center piece, I also like to include recessed lighting at the perimeter, roughly over the chairs. This should be on a separate, dimmable switch to provide additional or ambient lighting for the space.

 



The Benefits Of Going Solar At Home – Guest post by Ryan McNeill

It’s official: Renewable energy is now the average American’s preferred energy solution, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they are on — and few renewable energy options are more accessible to the homeowner than installing solar panels.

The popularity of solar is skyrocketing, accounting for nearly four in 10 new electricity generation capacity additions in the U.S. last year. While utility solar accounts for a large portion of this new infrastructure, residential solar is also showing strong growth as more homeowners are realizing the many benefits of solar energy.

Why are so many homeowners going solar? Let’s take a look.

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Economic Benefits of Installing Solar Panels

Once cost-prohibitive, solar energy is now more affordable than ever. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Economy of scale. Due to increased demand, the cost of solar panels is now half what it was in 2008, and experts believe it still has room to drop.
  • Low maintenance. A high-quality residential solar installation can be expected to last 30 years or more. Very little maintenance is required, which keeps costs low throughout the life of the system.
  • Energy savings. Solar pays back big over time. The average solar customer saves $67,000 over the lifetime of the system — and that’s at today’s energy rates. Who knows what the savings will be as aging conventional energy infrastructure drives energy rates up in years to come?
  • Financing. Solar is an investment, but it doesn’t have to be a painful one. In addition to the energy-saving ROI of the panels themselves, there are many options available these days that make solar panels affordable to the average homeowner. Some of these include rebates, leases and low-interest financing options. Don’t forget that homeowners can still take advantage of the full 30 percent federal solar tax credit through the end of 2019.

Solar Performance Means Peace of Mind

Besides the obvious financial benefits, solar will set your mind at ease. Solar panels are remarkably reliable, cranking out electricity as regularly as the rising and setting sun. They are safe, too, producing no noise pollution or harmful emissions. And, many solar homeowners rave about the sense of liberation they feel when realizing they are no longer subject to the whim of “Big Power.” Those who own battery systems are even secure from interruptions to the power grid.

Global Benefits of Residential Solar

Choosing solar is simply the responsible thing to do, both for the planet and for the communities in which we live.

First, consider the environmental benefits. We all know the impact global warming is having on the planet, and that solar panels are a huge step in the right direction when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint. However, you might not be aware that solar panels are also water-friendly. Per kWh of electricity, solar panels consume 16-20 times less of this increasingly precious natural resource than the most common conventional forms of electricity generation.

Solar is good for people, too. Dollar for dollar, an investment in solar results in twice the job creation as conventional energy sources. And, solar is an important factor in homeland security. Solar panels reduce dependence on foreign energy, reduce the electrical grid’s vulnerability to attack or failure, and provide an excellent source of power in emergency situations.

Is Solar Right for Your Home?

While not every home is suitable for solar, the benefits are clear for those that are. It’s no wonder so many more people than ever are choosing to install solar panels on their homes.

Author bio: Ryan McNeill is the president of Renewable Energy Corporation, one of the largest residential solar energy companies in the mid-Atlantic region. It is committed to providing homeowners with high-quality, American-made solar panels and solar energy products.



Sarah Wilson | 8 bits of plastic you can quit right now – Sarah Wilson
February 23, 2017, 11:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

http://www.sarahwilson.com/2016/09/8-bits-of-plastic-you-can-quit-right-now/



Age in Place, Part III: Technology

After understating the general concept of aging in place found here: und further the required physical connections found here: the next piece of the puzzle to look at the way technology contributes to the age in pace concept. There are two main areas to understand for the aging in place concept integration with technology: the personal connection and the connected infrastructure.

Personal connections are not new (anymore) and are changing at an amazing pace every day. Smart phones have long replaced personal computers in the way that we connect to each other as well to the business world around us. Video chatting, online shopping, social media and remote services are improving our personal life daily. While the youth is seeking ever sleeker ways to connect, share and integrated, no generation is excluded by these technologies. The simplification of the devices has further enabled anyone to instinctively utilize and access websites and apps. From ordering dinner at the local diner for delivery to connecting with family half way around the world, technology is here to make life easy.

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To take advantage of the network, all is need is a connection to it. This must be viewed as just another basic utility and no longer requires fixed land line connections. The personal network is easily connected to the larger infrastructure. Once established, the advantages and necessities for the age in place concept strongly focus on comfort, security and medical connection.

Of course integration of other features within the living unit are great and convenient, but the connection to outside services and utilities is the true benefit for the aging in place group. Online doctors’ visits to emergency response contacts, the technological lifeline makes remote living safe. Security can also easily be achieved with remote access, cameras and other services providing screening for visitors, deliveries and other concerns. Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” would be very different with today’s technology plug ins!

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Start with an integrated home automation system such as Control4 or Lutron to be part of any age in place design planning. There are many providers such as AT&T, Comcast, ADT, etc. that offer some sort of integration service package.

Lastly, consider researching the overall city integration for smart services. Smart City is a great site to learn more: www.SmartCity.com  or Smart Cities Council: http://smartcitiescouncil.com/



Miami Tiny houses

The tiny house concept, or micro living concept, movement is attracting increased popularity within the US. While it is not a new concept in many other parts of the globe, the awareness and conscious use of space is a relatively new phenomena on this vast continent. Previous planning and construction theories and methods do not focus on small spaces, but rather looks at increased footprints and increased equity – the larger, the better. Thus the typical sub-urban landscape is one of cookie cutter homes, neatly divided into micro squares, one larger than the next. This type of sprawl development has been growing into the design philosophy behind McMansions; the Tiny house movement is the exact opposite.

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Excellent graphic from “The Tiny Life” website.

Understanding that larger homes take up more resources, not just to build, but to operate, is one of the key aspects of the interest in a more compressed method of living. Equity is seen as overall value in living quality rather pure dollars of the build size of the house.

Small space living has long been a part of urban city dwellers, but taking the concept to suburbia and other areas not needing restrictions of space is what the tiny home movement is all about. Leave more land for (urban) farming or to otherwise enjoy is one interest of enthusiasts. Another is the possibility of actually creating a custom home, that is small enough to be mobile, should the need to relocate arise. To compensate for the smaller interior spaces, outdoor spaces that are not build up become an extension of the living space and contribute to the overall quality of life. Call it outdoor living rooms, patios, workout spaces, or anything else that evokes the connection to the natural environment over its built up alternative.

Naturally, outdoor living is a favorite option for South Floridians. The caveat for the local market however, is the unique climate within the continental United States. While sunshine is abundant most of the year, so are rain, strong winds and tiny critters – all making the extended life outside challenging for the better part of the year. There is also the challenge of Hurricane safety, a rare but real threat to the South Florida market for micro living. The building codes and insurance providers are keenly aware of the ravaging forces creating a path of destruction and have pushed for many safe features and methods to minimize damage and threat – rather successfully. Incorporating these features into outdoor living spaces, unfortunately goes precisely against the concept of secured structure and property.

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Combination Tiny House and Container living. Found HERE

Regardless, the tiny home option is likely to increase in popularity and solutions to the humidity and hurricane challenges are sure to be found. Sebastian Eilert Architecture has already provided numerous concepts to clients and we are thrilled to be part of this growing movement.



Some US – German incentives for Green building…
January 21, 2017, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Over the past 40 years, Germany has maintained a leading position in environmental incentives and benefit programs. The incentives have ranged from PV systems (photo-voltaic), to insulation and windows. What have they done? Is there anything the United States environmental policy makers could learn from Germany’s forward thinking?

The policies encompass many different categories, but the three main areas are energy, urban infrastructure, and transportation. The country’s policymakers started out small, thinking of little changes that could be made to spur forward action. About a year ago, president Obama stated that he wished for eighty percent of electricity to come from clean sources. This goal, of course, was not reached. Germany knew that setting a goal and failing would deter people from believing in the system. Llittle steps can keep the public interested.

The green plan adopted in 2010 is the Energy Concept. This states that primary energy consumption will fall by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. With the help of nuclear power and the spike in gas prices (over $7US/Gallon), energy consumption and greenhouse gas pollution has decreased significantly in Germany. The incentive with the gas, however, is more or less a little push to get people to use bicycles, public transportation, or carpool. All of these alternatives are valid in the United States as well; however, we do not see spiking gas prices as good for the environment, but instead, bad for the economy.

“Not living at the expense of people in other regions of the earth or at the expense of future generations living here and today.” Germany defined sustainability in a way to look not at the individual, but at the future and the surroundings. The changes made today will not directly affect the people who make them, but instead, their children, and their grandchildren. Forward thinking is another concept Germany has followed. The incentives for sustainable design and renewable energy originally focused only on  solar power. PV panels to generate energy has been viewed as a tax deduction in Germany for many years. With this known, it is not surprising that Germany made up 50% of the solar power worldwide market, with larger countries such as the US and China falling short. Germany has become a powerhouse for energy efficiency.

These incentives, however, have seen many cutbacks in the past 3 years, while the United States has seen large increases. These cuts in subsidies are due in part to the soaring number of purchases, yet even as the cuts increase, so do the number of solar panels. But Germany is still viewed as a green leader. So what does this say about the incentives and their effectiveness? Germany witnessed years of decreased emissions and energy use, giving other countries the push needed to follow step. Since then , the US  government has begun offering tax credits to homeowners and business owners for solar panel additions, as well as paying for those consumers who give back to the grid (producing more energy than they consume).

http://www.climateactionprogramme.org/news/germany_to_cut_solar_power_incentives/ http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-10-10/how-germany-became-europe%E2%80%99s-green-leader-look-four-decades-sustainable-policymaki http://www.traveldailynews.com/pages/show_page/43246-Germany-leads-the-way-in-sustainability-and-green-meetings http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-02/02/content_14521630.htm http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,811530,00.html

(SE, EB, edited by JL