Miami Green Homes


DIY HVAC Maintenance: What’s Safe and What to Avoid! – by Ray Flynn

Thank you to Ray Flynn (ray.flynn@diyguys.net) for this guest contribution:

guest post

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Being a homeowner is a wonderful investment that brings many fulfilling rewards. Of course, it also brings many (often unexpected) costs. From plumbing to electrical issues, there are hundreds of home repairs that could break the bank. Unfortunately, HVAC repairs could be one of them. HVAC repair technicians charge up to $80 per hour, and the repairs themselves can cost hundreds of dollars. Some Miami homeowners spend thousands, depending upon the types of repairs.

Of course, it’s inevitable that every HVAC will eventually be in need of repairs. Adding further complication, some HVAC-related costs can be tax deductible while others are not. So, what is a homeowner to do? One option that many homeowners are considering more frequently is just doing it themselves. It’s no secret that do-it-yourself (DIY) home repair projects are gaining popularity, especially among women.

Before You Begin

Before embarking upon a DIY HVAC maintenance project, however, there are a few things you should know. First, actual HVAC repairs should still be left to the professionals. Otherwise, you might damage your HVAC even further and end up having to pay a professional for costly repairs anyway — or worse, an entirely new HVAC system.

Instead, the best HVAC projects to attempt on your own are fairly simple maintenance projects. When it comes to maintaining your HVAC system, there are certainly a few things you can do on your own without needing to call a professional.

Change Your Filter

Proper maintenance of your HVAC system requires that you periodically change (between 30 and 90 days) the air filter. The air filters prevent airborne particles from getting into the HVAC machinery, where they could potentially cause damage. Failure to change HVAC filters could lead to permanent damage and expensive repairs.

Here’s one bit of advice: Although changing your HVAC air filter every so often is fairly simple, choosing the right size filter when making a replacement is essential. That cannot be stressed enough. Turn off the unit before replacing the filter, and always follow the instructions for your particular HVAC unit. If you run into any difficulties, call a professional to help you.

Clean Your Unit

Another thing you might have to occasionally do is clean your HVAC system. From time to time, dirt, debris, leaves, and other natural contaminants can get inside the machinery. If these items aren’t removed in a timely manner, they can clog things up.

Additionally, while you are inspecting your HVAC system for dirt and debris or changing the air filter, you might want to give it a good cleaning. This involves checking for any holes, leaks, or blockages, inspecting the fans for wear, and wiping down and cleaning the outside of the unit.

A few more simple maintenance tips and DIY repairs to consider might include changing the blower filter at least twice a year (or more, if you live in a dusty climate), adding a programmable thermostat to help make your home more energy efficient, and cutting back any vines or other vegetation that might be growing near your HVAC system.

It’s important to care for your HVAC system. By taking proper care of it, changing the filters, and performing regular maintenance as needed, you can keep your HVAC system running reliably for years to come. Best of all, these are DIY tasks that you can do yourself, which saves you some money by not having to call a professional. But if you’re new to home improvement and/or if any repairs are actually needed, those jobs are best left to the professionals. It’s never worth harming your HVAC system just for the sake of saving a few hundred dollars.

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Voyage MIA article – meet Sebastian Eilert

Thank you to Voyage MIA for the feature of the day! Nice to meet you, too. 

http://voyagemia.com/interview/meet-sebastian-eilert-sebastian-eilert-architecture-south-dade-county/



Permits and board approvals! Miami overview and nuances…

Often referred to as the “necessary evil”, getting a building permit is a crucial part of any project. While the process may pose a considerable time impact, it is important to remember that the primary objective of a building permit is to ensure that safe structures are provided. Beyond the building code approvals, zoning codes also guide the local flair and style of many neighborhoods and cities. The check and balance of this process should instead be looked at as a safety net for the owner, to ensure that the hired license professionals are indeed doing their job – beyond just design.

SEA has been blessed with a plethora of approvals in the last weeks and we are celebrating alongside our clients;

The building permit process and requirements in the respective municipality are typically common knowledge, however some of the nuances that are required may not be completely known and can add substantial time commitment to the permitting process. Some of the more common approvals we help to obtain are the Coral Gables Board of Architects approval – a process that requires a preliminary and a full approval to present to a panel of volunteer architects, Historic board approval (typically in Coral Gables, Miami Beach and City of Miami) – and special Planning and Zoning approvals, such as the recent success in Miami Shores.

building-permit_Page_1

(Miami Dade County Building Permit Application)

Following are some typical permit applications available online in Miami Dade County; these must be singed and notarized by the respective parties:

County: http://www.miamidade.gov/permits/library/building-permit.pdf

Miami: http://www.miamigov.com/nets/docs/permits/buildingpermitapplication.pdf

Miami Beach: http://web.miamibeachfl.gov/building/scroll.aspx?id=37842

Coral Gables: http://coralgables.com/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=741



The scent of building, or what is that construction smell…?

Construction sites are not the most pleasant places for both the workers and those around them. They create lots of noise [machinery], smells [ah, roof tar!] and debris [smoke, ash, fumes, etc.]. But fear not. There are many ways for a construction site to be managed that can decrease all of these effects on the surrounding area and its inhabitants and diminish the pollution created by the building process.

  1. Is there a chalky smell in your home or apartment after construction is finished? This is caused by dust buildup. This isn’t your average dust. It’s not dead skin or hair (eww!) but is rather , material shavings from materials like Sheetrock or ceramic tile. When ceramic tile is being cut for a bathroom, for example, the dust gets trapped in the ventilation. Or how about when you go through the final sanding process after mudding your drywall. First, trying to cover your furntiture, beds, countertops (anything you come into contat with on a daily basis) with a nice layer of Visqueen (that heavy duty plastic meant to keep your stuff safe. I also recommend buying a canister vacuum to get the dust out or suck it all in but then be sure to empty the canister in an outdoor area (not in the same place you just cleaned up).. Sometimes, you just have to let the vacuum remain in one place for 30 seconds in order to attract all the dust.
  2. How do you handle noise pollution? Just because workers are up bright and shiny at 7 am doesn’t mean that the neighbors are ready to face the day.  Loud equipment, delivery trucks and the ever-dreaded jackhammer create a most undesirable symphony that is simply diffiult to avoid.  But, there are ways to alleviate the problem. Creating a construction plan that allows for the loudest of jobs to be executed during the middle to the end of the day helps for sure and reminding staff that everyone does not appreciate the latest in salsa or R&B.
  3. The garbage accumulated on a construction site is made up of food, bottles, construction debris, and general packaging. Creating a recycling program helps to separate this debris. Garbage pickup on a site can be expensive, so by setting up a recycling program you don’t incur the costs of added containers and you help alleviate those back-to-back days of paella delivery. Some cities even pay you for your recycled bottles. Another way to alleviate the amount of garbage is to provide your workers with metal bottles, such as a Sigg (mysigg.com). These bottles are reusable, can be dropped from high heights without being damaged and save the environment.
  4. Some common construction smells also include gasses and fumes. These come from paints, treated woods, some metals, old  toilets, and even the construction equipment. The machines used on a construction site tend to run on gas which releases black clouds of smoke into the air. Many cities and states have made the use of machines that create these gas clouds illegal, so it is good practice to look into the more efficient and friendly alternatives. The fumes can also come from paints. High-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints tend to release noxious odors that damage brain cells and release harmful gasses into the environment. Low-VOC paint is the same price as the high-VOC paint, lasts just as long, and is just as durable, so why not make the switch?
  5. Another odor causing element of a construction site is standing water. Puddles and small pools can form during the excavation process (which releases unpleasant smells into the air ras well) and these pools, when left sitting for too long, begin to smell sulfurous. This is especially true is places like Miami which is situated right on top of its water table.  These puddles should be drained from time to time in order to avoid them becoming either a stink pool or a breeding ground for insects such as mosquitoes.

http://www.rez.org/2012/01/the-smell-of-a-construction-site/ http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/environment-and-recycling/pollution-noise-and-nuisance/ http://www.querrey.com/assets/attachments/15.pdf http://www.adbio.com/catalogs/BioWorld-Odor-Control-Catalog.pdf http://www.lhsfna.org/files/bpguide.pdf http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/swppp.cfm



Some US and German Green Building incentive considerations…

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 JLD)



Countertops and such…

No kitchen is complete without the proper countertop. From the recent increase of kitchen renovations in my practice, I like to share some of my favorite counter tops and also shed some light on the most commonly used materials and their properties.

A few years ago I came across this neat breakdown of the most typical materials:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is looking at items such as heat retention, damage to surface and stain damage. The reviews are in line with my own observations, so I have to agree with the provided breakdown. Indeed Soapstone, crowned the winner by the author of the comparison, is also my favorite. It is a soft stone, very easy to maintain and quite durable. It also is not prone to chipping and does not retain heat, which makes it great for a kitchen with active children. The downside of Soapstone? The cost and the color. The stone comes in dark shades, black to green. The cost is also about $45-$75, which makes it at par or even more costly than the all popular Granite. The upside, there is US Soapstone available out of Vermont…

I have used the stone as a contrast to white cabinets and colorful backsplashes very successfully.

Soapstone Countertops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A material absent from the list are some of the newer composite materials that frequently contain recycled content and thus make them a great option for projects seeking LEED or other green building certification. I have been partial to a product called CesarStone and have used it, which contains 30% recycled content or more, in a number of projects. The clients have been satisfied across the board. One of the benefits of these man-made materials is that they tend to have a excellent color spectrum and particle options (how large and what kind of chips you can see).

Ceasarstone Countertop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what material should you choose for your kitchen renovation? My recommendation is to make a list of the most important features and then consider the color and feel of the kitchen as a whole… it will rule out some of the options. The final decision will probably also consider cost.

 

Ready to get started on your kitchen upgrade? Call SEA today…



Paint. non VOC… why do we still have toxic paint?

Something so simple and still so important. There is no excuse anymore not use VOC free paint. All manufacturers and places have it and the quality is as good as the previous blends or even better.

Sherwin Williams “Harmony”, Benjamin Moore “Aura” or “Freshaire” at the Home Depot. Pick your (non-)poison and breathe in clean air… so why is there still toxic paint on the market? I do not have the answer, but as conscious consumers, we can eliminate them all together.

Paying attention to paint is important not just for the applicator, but also during the first few weeks of occupation, when toxins continue to float in the air. Try to apply a non-VOC paint and notice the difference. The usual odors are missing and what may be in your mind as the” fresh paint” smell, is significantly diminished (you still got a new paintjob, believe it).

I have used paints 1 and 2 noted above in my office and applied them myself. The difference in air quality is noticeable and was noted by most of my initial visitors. The quality of the paint, as is the color selection, is excellent.

My favorite example is that of expecting parents preparing the room for the new arrival. New paint is a staple and will set the tone for the rest of the décor. When painting with toxic paint, you are adding to the overall bad air quality, likely will not air out the room enough for toxins to off gas long enough (we are in South Florida, open windows mean wastes AC dollars…) and voila, your key contributor for the gas chamber for the newborn is set. New furniture with Urea Formaldehyde content (such as most of the shiny new furniture that is affordable) will contribute to the overall un-healthy room.

 Instead use the good paint, pay attention to the furniture (do not be afraid to ask for the Material Safety Data Sheets!) or rescue that solid wood crib from your grandma and create a fresh welcoming room.

I use the newborn scenario only as an example, all of the above holds true for any room that you work on.

 

Ready to renovate your new arrivals space? Contact SEA for design ideas.

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