Look Inside Martin County's First Green Home
It seems today that everybody wants to save the world. And who can blame us? Environmental awareness—and warnings—has reached an apex. We're all cognizant of our impacts on the planet and we're willing to minimize them.
Amid the noise of pious politicians and sermonizing celebrities, the public is left to decipher how best to actually, practically make a meaningful difference for the environment in daily life.
Fortunately, Anthony and Suzanne Kissling committed to this very goal when constructing their Palm City home. Their handpicked team of local professionals—largely new to the intricacies such an undertaking entailed—each contributed in ways subtle and overt to easing the eco impacts. The results: a home that preserves energy and water while also prolonging elegance, style and comfort, earning the literal gold-standard of green building.
The Kisslings' home in the Floridian is the first residential property in Martin County to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Some of the comprehensive requirements for LEED Gold (rankings include Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum) remain beyond reach for many homeowners. But not so for a number of the practices, techniques and innovations involved. Many, team leaders share, are readily available. Even if an official certification isn't, a cleaner, greener conscience still is. Such is the trend the Kisslings hope to influence.
“It's about that ripple effect,” Suzanne Kissling says.
Longtime friends, colleagues and co-collaborators on countless past projects, interior designer Dianne Davant and landscape architect Tom Lucido share the same philosophy on client services.
“We aim to make their vision come to life,” Lucido says. “They had a vision of building a totally sustainable home. We were approached at the get-go knowing that we had to do a lot of research to effectively navigate the process.”
Such navigation requires a guide. Enter Kyle and Harmony Abney, who own the Palm City-based green building consulting firm Abney + Abney Green Solutions. Whether serving as an independent contractor on behalf of the architect, the builder or the homeowner, Green Solutions bears the credentials to score points and provide third-party verification for LEED certification—the internationally recognized standard for green building authentication.
Carrots and the occasional stick
While Delray Beach and Miami Beach institute various LEED requirements—with Miami Beach mandating LEED Gold for any project over 7,000 square feet—most municipalities adopt the incentive approach. Complaint applicants might enjoy expedited reviews or reduced permit costs. The industry is still warming to the value of LEED construction. So the Abneys—who generally rate commercial or multifamily residential projects—face frequent commutes south.
“We don't have a lot of work in Martin or on the Treasure Coast,” says Kyle Abney, a third-generation contractor and builder who studied green building in college. “Most is in Miami or Fort Lauderdale.”
Grateful for the gridlock respite, the Palm City resident's proximity to the Kissling home may not have counted toward satisfying the letter of any LEED requirements, but it certainly honored the spirit. That's because of the five fundamental factors that determine green buildings, material generation and usage is essential. It encompasses the amount of waste diverted from landfills, the number of recycled and repurposed goods, even the distance involved in transportation—the shorter the better for diminishing travel-related carbon production.
Expected requirements include increased energy efficiency and limited water consumption. Perhaps surprising, under the category of indoor-environmental quality, are scoring opportunities for enhanced storage of any chemicals in the garage that could compromise air quality. But the first phase is site location and preparation.
“It starts from the ground up—literally,” Lucido says. “How the site is graded, even the drainage, makes a difference in ensuring proper usage and management of environmental resources.”
Despite extensive experience in landscape architecture, Paul Goulas, senior project designer with Lucido & Associates, never before pursued LEED certification on a residential project. Nevertheless, he embraced the opportunity.
“He was really into it and proud of the stuff he was incorporating,” Kyle Abney remembers.
Goulas zeroed in on water management—minimizing outputs and maximizing benefits.
“Water is a big concern when it comes to LEED certification and plant consumption,” Goulas says. “Most of the plants are either native or low-water usage. We did do irrigation—but it's all drip, so there are no spray heads. Given the plants that we used, it's easily 50 to 75 percent less water usage than an average residential system. Once the plants get established, the irrigation system would probably barely even need to run.”
The drought-tolerant native landscaping rated high. Knowing sod's insatiable thirst, Goulas eschewed grass altogether. In fact, the only turf on-site is artificial for two putting greens.
For the hardscaping, even a detail as seemingly inconsequential as color boosted the rating, Kyle Abney explains.
“The driveway and the more dark, hard surfaces are heat sinks,” he says. “The lighter the color, the better. The pavers had recycled content and were locally produced.”
The recycled content involved little pavement, Goulas says.
“Most of it was synthetic,” he adds. “Basically, everything but the house was pretty much pervious.”
Foam sweet home
The emphasis on energy efficiency was poured, literally, into the construction process. With Peter and Maria Stromberg of GarciaStromberg serving as the architects, Bill Daly, vice president for the Hobe Sound-based Carrere General Contractors, was the project manager. Daly added the spray foam insulation icynene into the concrete-block construction. Often used in attics and not uncommon in the walls of high-end homes, icynene improves overall energy efficiently. High-performance windows added insulation, reducing heat loss (and electric bills).
The extra fortification offered additional benefits, Kyle Abney notes.
“It was a concrete block that was locally produced, but there's also a durability element,” he says. “The longer something lasts, the less you have to replace it and throw it out.”
Claiming future by reclaiming past
Items reused rather than discarded weigh favorably, too.
“There was lots of reclaimed wood, including reclaimed cypress in the mantle,” Kyle Abney says.
Crediting Jefferson Woodworking of Palm City for much of the sourcing, Suzanne Kissling also cited reclaimed heart pine composing ample flooring and Spanish porcelain, a sustainable source, throughout the first floor.
“Everybody had to think, ‘Well, if we did it this way, we could get two points,'” she recalls. “So it was fun. Everybody was involved.”
Points accrued around every imaginable detail, from the strength and applications of sealants to the paints devoid of volatile organic compounds.
Outer and inner beauty
Meanwhile, Lucido and Davant ensured the look and feel of the exterior flowed naturally inside the home.
“We collaborated with Dianne and her team to make sure the materials related well when you walk into the entrance of the home,” Lucido says.
Davant invited the outer beauty in, with living room doors pocketing away to accentuate views of the zero-edge pool and St. Lucie River.
“They wanted to feel like they were part of the river,” she says.
For overall style, the Kisslings sought “something very different and avant-garde,” Davant says.
“It's a warm contemporary,” adds Priscilla Hyatt Councill, an interior designer with Davant & Associates who played a key role in the effort.
The only energy the home overflows with is the positive kind, thanks to the atmosphere Lucido and Davant created. Otherwise, several features and fixtures ensure energy efficiency.
Photovoltaic panels power much of the house. Add in low-flow toilets and faucets and Energy Star bathroom fans. A recirculating system in the bathroom means hot water on demand. And the solar-powered water heater counts among the upgrades available to a broader base of consumers, Daly says.
“You can get a solar-powered water heater for less,” he says. “I wouldn't mind putting in one of these.”
Back to the future
Some simple eco-upgrades sidestep modern technology entirely by returning to earlier design principles, Kyle Abney says.
“I'm a big fan of fundamental things: deep overhangs, front porches all the way around the house, designed for keeping the house naturally cooler,” he says.
Whether in returning to traditional design techniques, replacing non-native plants with drought-tolerant Florida-friendly vegetation or adopting advanced energy-saving technologies, the principles of LEED certification remain more widely available even if the certifications themselves do not.
A plaque on the Kisslings' doorbell announces the home's LEED status. It serves as a starting point for an important conversation about sustainability, Suzanne Kissling says. As friends and visitors ask questions, she informs on the details involved, the resources properly used and the human resources—right nearby—available to help create a wider ripple effect of environmental stewardship.
“It's important that people know we have talent in Martin County that can get this done,” she says.