April 21, 2011 — Coral Gables — Richard Jones, UM’s sustainable building expert, converts his home into an eco-friendly structure, earning the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest rating for sustainability.
It’s a Saturday, and in the four-bedroom, three-bath Jones home in South Miami, father Richard is in the kitchen, slicing carrots on a countertop table made of 100-percent-recycled office paper. In the laundry room, his wife, Dawn, is prepping a load of laundry for their energy-efficient washing machine, soaking the garments in water warmed by a solar hot-water heater. And in the Florida room, 7-year-old Jeremy is reading a book under light powered by reflective solar tubes.
Although this one-story may look similar to other houses in the neighborhood, it’s definitely “greener” on the Jones side of the fence.
An expansion and renovation initiated three years ago with the goal of becoming more environmentally conscious has converted the abode into a picture-perfect example of sustainable architecture at its best.
“It’s pretty much everything from soup to nuts,” says Jones, the University of Miami’s associate vice president for facilities design and construction, describing the extensive remodeling project that earned their home a Platinum rating—the highest obtainable—under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system. “We looked at almost every aspect of our home, from the air-conditioning system and insulation to the landscaping and finishes.”
Among the improvements:
• a reflective white roof that reduces heat gain and helps keep the house cooler
• solar tubes installed in closets and other areas of the house, making it unnecessary to turn on lights during the day
• LED lighting throughout the home
• high-efficiency Energy Star appliances
• a whole-house air purification system
• one-gallon flush toilets (older toilets can use up to 3.5 gallons per flush)
• drought-resistant landscaping
• rain barrels placed around the exterior of the home to capture rainwater, which is used for irrigation
• recycled materials used in the home’s expansion
When all the work was completed in 2009, the entire project added another 1,100 square feet to the home, nearly doubling its size, and the “green” upgrades earned the family a tax break from Uncle Sam.
“We got federal tax credits for solar panels, solar hot water, and other energy-efficient improvements such as insulation, air conditioning, roof, and windows,” Jones explains. “Some of those programs are sunsetting, but solar, wind, and geothermal are good through 2016.”
Richard and Dawn Jones moved into the residence 11 years ago, when it was a 1,200-square-foot home, built in the tradition of mid-century architecture. As their family grew—first with son Jeremy and then two other children, Erin and Morgan—the Joneses knew they had to expand. But using standard building materials harmful to the environment was never an option. Richard wanted to go green.
So the couple did their homework, reading everything they could find about green building practices and attending a major homebuilders show in Orlando, where they gleaned several ideas for sustainable products.
Richard’s role of spearheading UM’s green building initiatives also helped. He incorporated into his home’s redesign some of the basic sustainability strategies now in use in UM’s “green” structures such as the LEED-certified Clinical Research Building on the Miller School of Medicine campus.
“The general concept is pretty much the same,” says Jones, a graduate of UM’s School of Architecture. “The first thing we did, and probably the most important, was to cut down on our energy consumption, which meant doing a good job of sealing and insulating our home. Then we looked at different systems.”
The result has been a 64 percent decrease in the family’s energy consumption, even though the house has nearly doubled in size. Jones estimates that the family now saves about $3,000 to $4,000 a year in energy costs over a house of similar size.
Jones’s eco-friendly home is also helping to lower his family’s carbon footprint on the environment. In the United States, buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of total water consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption, and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But even though building “greener” is a growing trend in the commercial sector, the practice is not as prevalent among private homeowners. The high cost of building in such a fashion is one reason.
“We’re not paying for the cost of what we’re getting in green materials so much as we’re paying for the process,” says Jacqueline James, a UM assistant professor of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering, whose area of expertise is in sustainable construction. “When anything is new, it takes longer to manufacture, longer to figure out, longer for the contractors and builders to get into it. It’s not something they’re used to doing every day.
“Right now building green is more expensive because it’s newer, and we’re still in the phase of trying to understand it,” James adds. “But as we get a little more used to the materials and processes, it’ll get cheaper and materials will be readily available.”
While many of the sustainable materials Jones used in his remodeled house cost more than conventional products, those extra costs will be absorbed by the lower electric and water bills, which will help him reach the break-even point soon.
Jones is proud of his family’s home and isn’t shy about showing it off, giving tours not only to curious neighbors but to a busload of architects who were in Miami last year for the American Institute of Architects national convention. The family even hosted a housewarming party when the expansion and remodeling was completed, and the reconfigured digs have prompted some neighbors to consider using green-building techniques when making improvements to their own homes.
Ian McKeown, sustainability coordinator in UM’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, says Jones is LEEDing by example. “He’s willing to make a commitment not only to helping the University be more sustainable, but to his own home and lifestyle,” McKeown says. “Anyone can learn a lesson from this. Even if you’re not necessarily trying to get your home LEED-certified, it is possible to live a more efficient, sustainable lifestyle.”
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