Miami green building architect promotes sustainable designs

Miami green building architect promotes sustainable designs

by Shawndra Miller

Architect Maricé Chael and husband Victor Dover didn't set out to follow LEED specifications when they planned an addition and renovation to their South Miami home. But from the start, they had eco-friendly building practices in mind, and LEED for Homes turned out to be a natural fit.

Chael's firm, Chael Cooper Architecture, promotes sustainable design as key in creating lasting communities, and her own home embodies that philosophy. The gut rehab of the 900-square-foot cottage is on track for gold certification. "We did an addition to our house because our kids couldn't share a room anymore," Chael says. "Now we're just shy of 2,000 square feet, which is still not a big house."

Project manager Anthony Garcia says the project was geared towards proving you can do a sustainable house that is also traditional in nature, not necessarily 'techy' and modern.

The 1920s-era cottage is situated in a historic district close to shopping and public transportation, in keeping with LEED ideals. Besides the high-efficiency air conditioning, dual-flush toilets and blown insulation typical of an energy-efficient home, the cottage boasts several uniquely green features. Antique wooden doors were salvaged from an old house. Outside, Kentucky Bourbon barrels are strategically placed to harvest rainwater, so no municipal water is needed for irrigation of the native landscaping. Even the roof is green. Garcia says the shingles are made of recycled diapers.

Chael expects to save at least 45 percent on energy bills. "Given that 50 percent of the home is existing cottage, and back in the '20s they didn't know anything about insulation, it's kind of phenomenal we're getting gold certification," she says.

While no homes were LEED certified in the Miami area at press time, several residential projects ranging from affordable houses to mansions had registered to go through the process. Palmetto Homes builder Ario Lundy constructed the first affordable green home in Miami-Dade County, according to LEED certifier John Kiefer. The preliminary score points to a silver rating.

At the other end of the spectrum is a waterfront, luxury home being built in Manalapan. Reputed to be the largest spec green home in the nation, the 13,000-square-foot residence will marry energy efficiency with deluxe features like a water garden and an indoor waterfall. When complete in late 2008, it's expected to sell for $29 million and will likely be LEED certified at the silver level, according to green building consultant Gary Schlifer.

While green homes are beginning to catch on, Schlifer says, "LEED for Homes is getting a slow start here." One factor slowing LEED's uptake, according to Florida LEED provider Eric Martin, is a green building pprogram operated by the nonprofit Florida Green Building Coalition. Builders haven't seen the need for anything different, he says. There are more than 1,600 FGBC homes in Florida. Another program, Environments for Living, is also working to green the state.

But Schlifer says LEED shines because of its holistic approach: "LEED for Homes is part of an entire system that fosters community-wide sustainability."

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