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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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.

 



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.



Furniture for (outdoor) Miami / South Florida

Miami is a trending town. South Beach and Brickell feature a plethora of high rises, one sleeker than the next; seeking cutting edge contemporary furniture to match. Other places historic charm calls for old world style and serene durability. Yet all of these styles still seek a unique place: the outdoors. Here the style becomes secondary and durability takes over. No matter the design, the South Florida outdoor climate is harsh. Heat and humidity provide minimal opportunity for protection as may be accustomed from northern more climates. What is outside, will slowly demise.

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Designers have contemplated many solutions and each have their own success – and failure. Permanent installations out of concrete or keystone are frequently bulky and attract mildew. The latter can be easily cleaned and the essential shape and function of the design maintained. In some cases the aging by the weather may be intended as part of the design. One of the great long lasting examples can be found at Coral Castle (website).

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Plastics and metals are typically deteriorating the fastest. They offer the most versatile designs, but at an environmental cost. Humidity really goes to town here and high design pieces are best kept conditioned when not in use.

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Composite materials are another option popular with architects and designers. These materials are engineering to withstand extreme weather as well as mold and mildew. Most perform reasonably well. This approach has also grown popular with material choices for decks and patio finishes, as well as sleek 3D design elements and backdrops.

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Lastly all natural materials such as teak and tropical hardwoods are a many designers favorite. These materials must be treated and maintained in order to continue to function and look as intended. Again the design intention may include a certain aging in place, but the functionality and structural integrity will be hard to maintain, even with selective rotting.

With many great examples that are picture ready when completed, maintenance and protection are key to ensure a long life for outdoor furniture in Miami.



Age in Place – Increased focus of future design

With a growing portion of the population living longer, aging in place is receiving increased focus beyond the healthcare industry. City planners, service providers and designers are all becoming aware of adjustments that are required in the fabric of everyday life to accommodate the needs and preferences of an aging populous. I have received an increase in design focused questions towards this topic and believe that its importance, particularly in the residential renovation and addition marked, has only begun to take hold of the profession.

As architects we are already entrusted with the general welfare of our clients. While this generally relates to building code related items, the proper setup of design issues is the focus of this post.

ADA – the “Americans With Disabilities” Act, already is doing a fine job regulating and encouraging safe environments in public and commercial spaces. Ramps, grab bars, accessible counters and preferred parking are standard in our everyday life. Many of these concepts can be translated into the residential sector, but are at this time not required by code.

So what are some of the key features to look out for in a home project? To start, I like to focus on access. Creating spaces that have enough clearance as well as an ease of access are key. Many design programs feature a great master suite on a second or elevated floor and also request a smaller guest suite, typically located on the ground level. I recommend to make the latter a 2nd master suite, eventually changing the uses, when climbing the stairs becomes too cumbersome for the primary occupant.

Bathrooms. Provide additional bracing in the walls to allow to add handrails and grab bars when the time comes. Drywall will not support anchoring these items, resulting in a full demolition of the existing walls, if not planned for, and documented, during a previous construction/ (PS: also consider adding backing for televisions, as an increase in weight of TV’s and brackets will also not be handled by drywall).

Counter spaces should be designed to allow easy access, eventual for a wheelchair, if needed. Solid vanities do not function in this manner. Floating counters are a beautiful design feature that also allow floor clearance. Similar counter consideration should be taken the kitchen. Not just the working counter, but also the height of appliances should be considered.

Smart houses are really a great way to help with age in place design. As more technology finds its way into our lives, it is easy to connect most lights, appliances and systems to operate away from switches through the devices we already use. An added benefit to a connected smart home is the connection, or connectability, to outside sources, such as family and emergency responders. Networks will undoubtedly grow in the future and adding the required infrastructure is easy and affordable during construction.