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.

 



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.



Design highlights. The Master Suite:

The Master Suite is a renovation and addition favorite. Next to the kitchen, this is probably the second most requested item when considering work to an existing structure. Indeed the improvements to this area are not just good for the immediate living situation, but also are key features for future value of the project. Frequently a master suite involves an addition to the house, rather than only a remodeling, thus increasing the square footage of the overall property.

A master suite, as opposed to a master bedroom, involves a grand bathroom and en-suite closets. The design typically begins with a small entry area into the suite. If space and budget allow, a small seating are is the ideal connecting point to the rest of the house. This area then serves as the connector as well as a buffer from the other spaces.

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The bedroom itself is generally larger as compared to the other bedrooms in the house. It is important to maintain an overall sense of scale in relation to the overall home. A good size master bedroom should be no smaller than 14’ x 18” and may be as large as 20’x 20’. Very large homes could go over bigger however, I generally advise to keep the bedroom function as a true bedroom and consider adding a seating area or small den to the suite in lieu of an oversized bedroom.

Once the living components are settled, the bathroom and closet relationship must be laid out next. Options include fully separate spaces, resulting in a large number of doors, a closet to bathroom connection in a corridor style or finally an open connection between them. The latter requires a good amount of area as well as excellent air control to avoid any moisture form the bathroom seeping into the closets.

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The bathroom itself should have a separate toilet room as well as a large feature shower. Here again, the scale of the shower should be larger than those in the rest of the home. Bathtubs are a vanishing commodity and are often forfeited in lieu or a larger shower, possibly used as a steam room. If a tub is desired, it can be integrated with the shower in a single enclose or be freestanding as a feature.

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A spin of off the Master Suite is the guest suite. Similar in approach, these spaces are sometimes referred to as a second master suite and follow the same composition of spaces as above, at a smaller scale. Guest suits are frequently designed in multistory homes and located on the ground floor rather than upper floor to prioritize access over views. They serve as an alternate master suite to allow for aging in place.

 



Age in Place, Part II: Connect-ability

This post is building on the previous post – Age in Place – Increased focus of future design. Another key aspect to aging in place is to look beyond the actual building or space itself, and consider the larger context the living space is sitting in. In order to have a functioning aging in place concept, the occupant must be able to interact with basic services and obtain daily needs in an accessible fashion. Setting a well structured and support aging in place community in a remote parcel with separated living, working and support zones, will likely require a vehicle or other transportation to properly provide all the essential needs. IN order to truly embrace the concept, dependability on a car or vehicular transportation should be reduced or eliminated. To achieve this, locations must be walking friendly and feature amenities that are useful to the aging population, beyond those of other desirable walkable communities. A great site to check the walkability of any location is: WalkScore. The higher the score, the more integrated a location is.

Of course there are certain services related to the aging populous, that are unlikely to be in walking distance, such as hospitals and other medical providers. Here the connection to public transit can be key to a successful location. Personal vehicles have a decreased value for the aging in place group. Parking spaces and structures limit opportunities for walking, biking and other low impact outside activities. The Smart City Challenge has some great ideas about transportation; find it HERE.

Parks and other shares spaces in close proximity will further enhance the concept of a well integrated or even planned community. Urban planners and architects have for decades attempted to create communities that could work by design. The Congress of New Urbanism has in recent times made great advances in the planning approaches. More can be read HERE. The CNU is a great starting point to learn more about urban and community planning. Technology and infrastructure are yet another angle to the aging in place living and will be covered in a future post.



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.