Miami Green Homes

Solar-Powered Desalination Device Will Turn Sea Water Into Fresh Water For 400,000 People

A shipping-container hosting the world’s first zero-emissions, solar powered desalination technology is bringing clean water to rural Kenya.
— Read on

Design after COVID 19. How the virus may affect architectural design for the home, Part I

There is no doubt that the “after” will bring with it some changes and lasting adjustments. After looking at how the office and office culture are likely affected, what do changes to the home may look like?

In the home – Part I:

“Shelter in place” and “remote work from home” are certainly familiar terms these days. But how does this cozy space need to change to continue to be the safe haven we all seek? The answer is linked to our daily use of familiar areas and activities.

Let’s start with the approach. Coming from the outside world; work, shopping, exercise, etc. into the home in South Florida its likely done by car. If you are lucky to have a garage, that will be the point of first contact. Otherwise, the front door will serve as this space. Technology is already widely available to assist with remote unlocking and opening, so the touchless entry is already safe and will likely expand into a standard feature. Materials used for hardware will also change to reflect easy cleaning and disinfecting. More apps are likely to make the transition from the approach into the house easy, sensor-based, and even remote.

The next space is the actual entrance. South Florida rarely features a true foyer as commonly found in northern regions. The main reason for this architecturally speaking is the lack of need to keep the cold out and shed all clothing relating to severe or unpleasant weather. This too will change by design. No longer concerned only with air condition leaking to the outside, the entrance vestibule or foyer will find its way into the updated post COVIT-19 designed home. This can be new or retrofit to create the buffer needed to bring items from the outside into the home and transition out of protective clothing as well as provide a first layer for viral shedding and reduced transmittal of possible contaminants. Doormats, filters, and UV cabinets for certain clothing may look futuristic but are likely to be integrated here with new materials and will take up some of this space.


Mudroom transition from the garage into the house.

In more spacious homes this room may also be added as an interface between the garage and the house. Already a popular feature in new home design, the mud-room – a transitional space between garage and kitchen or pantry – no longer will be used for backpacks, school supplies, and large shopping trips only. It will now include a disinfection station and for front line workers, may include a disposable section, similar to a sharps or biohazard removal container setup.

Once inside the home, personal interactions will also be guided by hands-free decisions and upgrades. Appliances, light control, sound systems, faucets, showers, etc., are already integrating these features. More is sure to come, combing voice and motion activation. Think about your favorite Spaceship Enterprise stage setup…

Rain Shower Set System 20" x 14" with Touch Panel Smart Mixer and Remote Controlled LED - VAVALA Vavala FLUXURIE.COM

Free access – modern voice-command controlled shower

Lounging in the living area, working in the designated home station (look for part II B on more for this feature), or getting the well-deserved shut-eye are areas of personal use that should not change a great deal from current design preferences. The 2 most impacted areas are the bathroom and the kitchen. Following a typical daily routine, the first step once rolling out of bed, having told the alarm to stop ringing, would be the use of the toilet. Touch unavoidable by sitting down, but “clean-up” is changing. Besides the paranoia of purchasing toilet paper, there is no real need for this ancient relic in the post COVIT design. Paperless cleansing toilet seats do not just eliminate the need for paper, but will also reduce the need for touch; flushing voice active as well.

Touchless Toilet Seat Covers : Toilet Seat covers

The bathroom sink will also be touchless or voice-activated and will likely include some UV lighting to further incorporate disinfecting. This is more important upon the noted return to the home above, but will become a standard feature in the near future. Next is the shower, again simple already in place solutions for turning on/off, regulating temperature and pressure. Accessibility is likely to be the big winner not just though incorporating commands, but also by the increase in space to avoid tight areas more likely to touch someone or something, think shower curtains, versus a nice roll-in shower.


Doorless shower access. Enlarged shower for easy access

On to the kitchen: The kitchen counter is already typically a biohazard, no matter how well it is maintained. We use it daily and materials will change to be both user friendly and sanitary. Microbial cutting surfaces and disinfectant under cabinet light are good choices. The fridge, appliances, and cooktops all will be retrofitted with voice commands and contribute to the touchless function of the kitchen space. Eating will hopefully still be manual !

10 Best Under Cabinet LED Lighting - (2020 Reviews & Guide)

With this increase in technology, reliable power and data will become paramount. An increased energy demand can be offset with photovoltaic systems and supported by other renewable energy resources. A designated server space will also find its way int the post COVID designed home, maybe with a pantry or otherwise near the kitchen for easy access.

With so many integrated features to make one s life better, how do we now interact with others inside the home? Look for part II about the family group, friends and family visiting, and the work at home environment.

Sebastian Eilert, AIA

PS: Side note about the daily routine. A great read I found is “A Million Years In A Day” by Greg Jenner, following the history of many of the daily routines and chores done in the home.

reuse revolution – on point animation, Greenpeace

Design highlights. The Bathroom:

Bathrooms. European design trends tell us that this space is more important than the kitchen when allocating space. The spa-life within one’s own four walls has an increased importance in home remodeling as well as new construction.

Basic function remains a budget favorite. Starting on the small or standard end of the spectrum, my personal preference is a 6×8 bathroom over a standard 5×8, which is also fine. This dimension results from a standard low tub of 60” x 30”. These tubs present the most cost efficient way to do a bathroom, with the tub starting at $250. These tubs are great for families with small children or to bathe small to mid size pets…but pretty much useless otherwise.


On to the question then of tub versus shower. In lieu of the above mentioned builder special tub, most projects will opt for a nice size shower. Indeed a 30” by 60” shower is very generous, though a little deep. I like to go a little wider to at least 42” with a minimum depth of 48”. Access to the shower is another item to be considered. Building code requires that water from the shower remains within the shower boundary. To achieve this, most projects require a basic lip at the edge of the shower, typically 4” tall to step over. This lip will then also serve as the base for a glass enclosure, if chosen. The sleeker alternative to the lip edge is a recessed edge or sloped approach. The latter is a favorite for age in place solutions, as it allows easy access for a wheelchair, if necessary. Either of these 2 options must be considered during planning stages and do depend on the possibility of lowering the floor in the shower area.


Back to the tub. In our practice the tub is a vanishing commodity, both in new construction and certainly in renovations. If a tub is requested and enough space can be allocated, free standing soaking tubs, over jetted or drop-in Jacuzzi tubs are preferred. These tubs can create a wonderful feature for any project and provide a sanctuary within the home. One last word on tubs: it remains a good idea to have at least one tub in the home for the above noted uses.

After selection of tub versus shower, the next item to consider is the toilet. In the standard size space, I prefer to locate it next to the tub or shower for the added feel of space. If space allows, a separate toilet room is a great feature for obvious sound and smell separation. The code required spacing for a toilet is 15” on center to each side and under ADA (Americans with Disability Act – while not required for residential projects, a good guideline for accessible living) requires 48” clear space in front. I prefer a 18” by 60” layout, which is a lot more comfortable.


Finally, the sink and counter must be considered. The following items should be addressed: counter material (traditional marble or granite, quartz, composite, etc.), sink type (drop in, under mount, vessel or integrated), faucet location (on counter or out of wall), vanity design (floating, standard full height or counter only) and of course number of sinks. In a standard bathroom a single sink with a wall mount faucet on a standard cabinet is my preference; it optimizes use of the counter and storage under the sink. When space allows, 2 sinks facing each other create a great “his and hers” layout and the incorporated toilet room noted above likely gives more space to one side, creating a good amount of space to use as a make-up station or simple extra counter space.

I do like integrated sink designs for ease of maintenance, but any of the above selections will do – be mindful when selecting a vessel sink to lower the counter to accommodate proper height of the sink edge. Also be considerate of faucet selection; nothing worse than a faucet that is too short or too low to get your hands under.


Two items are frequently missed when designing a bathroom. 1. A medicine cabinet for additional storage – preferred off to the side as not to become the main mirror, and 2. Lighting. While overhead lighting is great to illuminate the space, a light source from the front is preferred for make-up, shaving and other uses involving your face; a combination of both is my favorite.

Water and wastewater (WWW) treatment – a look at the energy used for water in the US

While water and wastewater (WWW) treatment accounts for a surprising 5% of total U.S. electric power generation, topographically-variable WWW conveyance account for a more surprising 15% of the same total [Pod06; Coh04]. In addition, while wastewater contains energy in dilute form, current goals for recovering such energy represent only 0.02% of the total generation, through the use of microbial fuel cells of the future [Log04]. If, on the other hand, WWW were decentralized, up to 15% of total U.S. electric power production could be saved.


While centralization of WWW treatment was implemented to concentrate resources and ensure water quality, today many monitoring, quality control, and operation and maintenance (O&M) functions can be decentralized electronically. Imagine, if each building of the future contains a direct potable reuse system, then maintenance personnel, rather than driving to a central facility daily, would be dispatched electronically to neighborhoods for routine annual maintenance. Moreover, decentralization would increase the accountability of neighborhood residents in terms of responsible use of water, personal care products, and household chemicals.


Beyond energy savings, autonomous net-zero water (ANZW) buildings would not need to treat for most pesticides (US, 5 billion lbs/y) and industrial chemicals (US, 6 billion lbs/y), representing a total mass loading of 2 mg/L on U.S. surface and groundwater runoff. Treatment instead would focus on effective destruction of endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) such as pharmaceuticals, which cannot be as easily regulated in terms of environmental half-life as pesticides and other chemicals, by advanced oxidation. This latter advantage would address the current 6% feminization of male fish across all species (20%, black bass) in U.S. river basins [Hin09]. Finally, an urban demand for e.g. one million gallons of water every day in Southeast Florida would be removed from the (Everglades) natural system. Eliminated would be water rationing, and the need to treat seawater with total impurity levels two orders of magnitude higher than drinking water standards, to drinking water standards when impurities in treated wastewater e.g. in S. Florida currently meet 87 of the 93 numerical drinking water standards on average without further treatment.


Increased construction activity in the outlined areas over the last 10+ years. Many infill projects and zero lot line developments. Increased population growth in the target area with increased load (people) and demand (use per individual). Overall individual load has increased over X years by X gallons per day. Strain on water treatment system and infrastructure, especially close to water ways cited. Septic tanks systems that are undersized, outdated or broken, without eh owner knowledge. Purposeful (non permitted or documented) re-routing of sewage water to nearby water ways and excess burden on municipal sewer system with surface water runoff, increased rainfall intensity and more man-made diversions of water. Quantity of subsurface runoff (stormwater).


Estimates of water use in the United States indicate that about 410 billion gallons per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn in 2005 for all categories summarized in this report. This total is slightly less than the estimate for 2000, and about 5 percent less than total withdrawals in the peak year of 1980. Freshwater withdrawals in 2005 were 349 Bgal/d, or 85 percent of the total freshwater and saline-water withdrawals. Fresh groundwater withdrawals of 79.6 Bgal/day in 2005 were about 5 percent less than in 2000, and fresh surface-water withdrawals of 270 Bgal/day were about the same as in 2000. Withdrawals for thermoelectric-power generation and irrigation, the two largest uses of water, have stabilized or decreased since 1980. Withdrawals for public-supply and domestic uses have increased steadily since estimates began.

A few notes on Sustainable Gardening
July 24, 2012, 12:51 am
Filed under: Hot Topic, Landscaping, Sustainable Living, Water Efficiency

The term sustainable can be defined as “requiring no outside inputs.” A sustainable garden, although needing to be pruned and groomed as to not become a forest, has many benefits over the tradition flower garden. Sustainable gardens require no fertilizer, less watering, are low maintenance and they improve soil quality tremendously. Due to a concern with the environment all over the world, sustainable garden is coming forward.

Fertilizer is the main concern. In Wisconsin, for example, fertilizer runoff into the smaller lakes has caused many problems. First: water pollution. The water now has chemicals in it that are harmful and cannot be consumed. The fertilizer is also creating rapid underwater plant growth. Lakes that were once blue and clear to the bottom are now grey green with zero visibility. This pollution does not just affect the plants but the fish as well. Many species of fish are dying off and others are mutating over time. Another downside to fertilizer is that the process in which it is created requires fossil fuels. We want to conserve fuels, not waste them on plant steroids.

Water scarcity around the world because of drought and lack of new sources of fresh water is addressed with sustainable gardening. By using native or drought resistant plants in a sustainable garden, less watering is needed. It is also recommended that plant watering happens directly at the root. This keeps the plant happy, well-fed and means less watering of unnecessary dirt patches. Using less water also minimizes a water utility bill.

The basic components of a sustainable garden are the organic methods and inputs, water quality and conservation and plant selection.

1. The first step is to set up the garden space. Reducing storm water runoff and using less impervious surfaces helps in creating a healthy, non-flooding environment. This can be done using rain barrels or rain gardens.

2. Select your plants. Drought resistant and native plants are the safest option, however perennials, larger grasses, and tough shrubs are also very successful for this type of garden. The plants should be grouped together with other that have similar watering needs, so as to not waste. It is also important to consider the health of the plants. Make sure to choose those that are the most pest-resistant and disease-resistant. If planting trees, deciduous trees should be to the south of the home to maximize shading on your structure for example. On the north, plant evergreens for winter wind protection.
3. Remember to conserve. Be water smart and instead of using a sprinkler with lots of evaporation and waste, water the plants directly at the roots; this is also sometimes called xeriscaping. A little side note, reuse that plastic milk jug. Poke holes in it to make a great watering can or use perforated hose pipe with water coming out at a trickle for more direct root watering.
4. Enjoy! Every once in a while the garden will need to be tamed because left alone it can become a forest. Weeding can be done by hand or even with a 10% vinegar solution!

Sustainable gardening has both financial and environmental benefits and creating this unique garden space adds to appeal of your home.

(SE, EB, edit JLD)

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.

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

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



How to create a Rain Barrel…

Previously mentioned in landscaping and irrigation posts, a rain barrel is a wonderful way to use some of that otherwise wasted water and reduce your potable water need for irrigation. There are some good options available for sale, but why not get creative and make it a fun weekend project to build your own piece of green building – a rain barrel.

I noticed a number of workshops for this and have myself 2 preferred sources, one of them in our backyard at the University of Florida. They have teamed up with Miami Dade County  Consumer and Water Department and are going around town to show and tell how it is done.

I recently noticed them at the Coral Gables Farmers market and at the Going Green day for the Village of Pinecrest…so keep looking for them.

Painted rain barrel


Electric Drill

  • Drill bit ½-inch to 1-inch
  • Drill bit 3/16-inch
  • Drill bit 1/8 inch
  • Jigsaw
  • Marking pen
  • Phillips screw driver
  • Pocket knife
  • Work-bench
  • Extension cord
  • Safety glasses


Plastic drum (55 gal. is best). Barrels that have carried food products are recommended. Some cleaning product barrels are OK after rinsing. Do NOT use petroleum or toxic chemical barrels.

The following are all PVC fittings:

  • Two-inch male adapter
  • Two-inch male slip x 3/4-inch female threaded adapter
  • 3/4-inch male threaded x 3/4-inch female threaded elbow (3/4 inch street el)
  • Four inch long 3/4-inch threaded nipple

The following can be either metal or plastic:

  • 3/4-inch female sillcock or hose bibb
  • PVC cement
  • Teflon™ tape or Teflon™ pipe joint compound
  • Silicone sealant
  • Three stainless steel sheet metal screws #10 x 3/4 inch
  • Stainless steel mesh with plastic rim kitchen strainer (4 to 6 inch diameter)


  1. Turn the barrel so that the end with no openings is facing up. 
  2. Fit the strainer on the end which is facing up so that it lays flat.
  3. Mark around the perimeter of the strainer, remove strainer and draw another line about ½ inch inside the perimeter line.
  4. Drill a pilot hole using the large bit just inside the inner drawn circle.
  5. Using the saber saw follow the inner circle line until the circle is removed. Remove the circle if it has fallen into the barrel. This is a good time to make sure the barrel is clean inside.
  6. Drill pilot holes in the strainer flanges and handle using the 3/16-inch bit. Place the strainer on the barrel and mark the hole locations on the barrel.
  7. Drill pilot holes in the barrel using the 1/8-inch bit.
  8. Partially screw into the strainer the #10 screws. Check to make sure the strainer holes match the barrel holes.
  9. Apply silicone sealant to the strainer rim and place the strainer into position. Tighten screws until just snug. (Pat yourself on the back, you have just completed the first part of the barrel).
  10. Place the barrel on its side. Unscrew one of the plastic filler plugs in the other end of the barrel.
  11. Apply PVC cement to the two-inch male adapter sleeve and place the two-inch male x 3/4-inch female threaded adapter inside and press together for a few seconds.
  12. Insert street el into the 3/4-inch hole of the adapter. Use teflon tape or sealant on all threaded parts 
  13. Insert 4 inch nipple into street el 
  14. Screw assembly into barrel. Four-inch nipple will work as a wrench to tighten first two fittings. 
  15. Connect water faucet to 4-inch nipple. Hand-tighten to proper position.
  16. Place barrel on level, sturdy base. Direct downspout over the strainer. (Hooray, you now have a functioning rain barrel).

Here are some more helpful hints from UF:

Contact Sebastian Eilert about your green project of any size ( 786.556.3118)