A Lighthouse Point of View
Text: Hilary Lewis
Tropic Magazine, November 2011
Photos: Island Studio Photography
When developer Andrew Zahn chose to build a spec home in 2008 he was taking some chances. While the economy was just starting to show signs of life, building on spec was deemed a bit risky. Most builders would not have taken the time and care to design and build a gracious home that was intrinsically green, from its solar panels to the efficient zone-based irrigation system installed on its grounds. Zahn, however, could not have imagined going in any other direction – the international standard developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) that relates not only to the construction of but the ongoing use and maintenance of a building.
The result that Zahn Development got was a handsome and sophisticated 4,300-square-foot waterfront home that sold within the year. Modern in style but nonetheless contextual with its elegant surroundings on Lighthouse Point, the house attracted plenty of attention since its completion; the demand for access created something akin to, “a full-time open house,” according to Zahn. Hardly surprising-considering the slowdown in new building and until very recently, the limited amount of green construction in spec homes.
While it seems that everyone is talking about going green, the economic incentives have not yet really been put in place. In the past, you had to rely on an enlightened patron working with a knowledgeable designer and builder. In truth, green initiatives, from collecting rainwater to recycling construction waste from a site, have usually been seen as costs with the sole advantage of making the builder and/or owner feel better and it is hoped, allowing for some energy savings into the future. Therefore, the rewards have not been sufficiently large for most builders to get on the bandwagon unless their clients or local building code demanded it. Should local municipalities implement more regulations, or rather incentives, that encourage green practices, you will see much more green construction.
In the case of Zahn, there was simply no question that this was the correct way to go, regulations or not. Yes, it meant slightly higher cost. Zahn estimates that green initiatives can cost anywhere from a 5% to 20% premium. But he saw this as both responsible and also a choice that many homeowners would welcome. The reception the home has found indicates he was right.
Going forward, those additional costs may go down significantly as technologies become more sophisticated and more widespread. Also, currently the learning curve is somewhat steep for everyone involved. The various trades, from carpenters to electricians and landscape designers to HVAC experts, are just now getting educated in how to rethink the way we build homes and offices. As that knowledge becomes more common among practitioners, we will wonder how we ever functioned without green approaches and the idea of an increased cost will seem moot.
In case you are worried that a green building will look odd or the architectural equivalent of an Earth Shoe, think again. This project, the first LEED certified green home in Broward County, features all the luxury amenities the upscale clientele seeking homes in Lighthouse Point would want – all in the form of a very modern and well-considered design. From a 42-foot lap pool with saline filtration to a three-car garage the goodies are all here too. The Solar panels, which using a smart system clip on to the structure and are hidden from view, in now way detract from the elegance of the building’s facade. The use of limestone and bamboo is both elegant and environmentally proper. Of course, the plentiful windows are energy efficient low-E glass, so no guilt about increased use of climate control to accommodate all that transparency. There were no aesthetic compromises necessary.
The process Zahn went through sets the bar high and indicates how going green is really about the way we design a project from start (as opposed to adding on costly systems to a non-green template). In other words, from square one we should be considering how to use items like bio-based non-toxic Icynene foam insulation (as Zahn did) that will vastly cut down on the seepage of energy from the building’s interior. Low-VOC paints, sealants and epoxies are not only good for the environment-they are good for the well-being of occupants. Fortunately, some developers are now wise enough to recognize that a bit more up-front consideration can produce a truly better environment all around. Now, let’s spread the word.