Gulf Coast Times
Tomorrow's House, Today
-by Johanna De La Torre, For Gulf Coast Times
“Green” is more than just a color. “Green” is a movement, a theory so to speak, towards a more sustainable world. It means looking at the big picture.
According to the US Green Building Council, green buildings use 36% of their total energy and 65% of their total electricity. “Going green” is about conserving energy and protecting the health of our environment to help improve those numbers.
In the West Coast, building green is the fastest growing phenomenon in the home building industry ever. Going green not only brings energy efficiency, but it also provides an improved quality of life beyond comparison. With this in mind, a new local “green builder” has hit Southwest Florida. Their goal: live in a way that cares for the Earth and that will show others how to do so as well.
"Energy efficiency, indoor air quality, types of building and waste are key when you talk about green," Greencastle, Inc. President Shawn Harvey says. "It's about a holistic approach to living."
And Harvey and his team know everything is interconnected.
Greencastle is bringing affordable, green, hurricane resistant, super-energyefficient houses to the Southwest Florida market. The idea was simple: build homes that are environmentally friendly, where people could live in modern comfort without taking a toll on our natural resources.
"We want to use as much renewable energy as we could," Harvey says. "Therefore, we build with earth-friendly, healthy building materials that often times are made from recycled matter."
With this, Greencastle has worked to build a comfortable niche for itself, Harvey says. A green home project entails a good bit of detective work for the builder. Harvey admits to spending days in front of research material, the computer, and meetings to find just the right items for his homes. Manufacturing is still being done the same old way, but companies are putting a different spin on it. And that just doesn't cut it.
To Harvey and his team, the most innovative and high quality products will make the difference. Yes, often times, these materials are more expensive in their initial costs, but the energy consumption in the long run makes a "green world" of a difference.
Thus, he found energy-efficient components for every aspect of a Greencastle residence.
Harvey explained that the idea behind these ecofriendly, safe homes began thanks to the amount of hurricanes tropical storm seasons have brought our way. To him and his team, the lack of shelter during these situations sparked an interest in an economic dwelling that could serve as a safe haven throughout a storm. And by incorporating the most widely used and longest lasting building material for centuries, Harvey had to see how green could be brought into the equation.
"We started looking at concrete blocks and other systems and asking if that was really the best way buildings could be constructed," he says. "Since the technique has been around for some time, one would naturally come to the conclusion that it was the best way to do it. But then, we started researching hurricanes and a better way to do things."
So curiously I asked, "If a hurricane were coming, would you stay in a Greencastle home or would you seek shelter?"
"I would absolutely stay at home," he says confidently.
And why wouldn't Harvey make such a bold statement. Greencastle homes are built to a much higher standard than conventional houses. This team makes sure that each house is "code plus" and Fortified for safer living under the Institute for Business & Home Safety. Greencastle home's use fortifying techniques and materials raising the home's overall disaster-resistance.
Harvey says he went into the building business thanks to his uncomplicated philosophy of what a house is.
"A home just doesn't exist on its own," he says. "It's there for people to live in and these people have needs."
For that reason, Greencastle residences are built with their buyers in mind. From the outside, the home looks like a regular conventional built residence, but every detail in the house has its purpose.
To help maximize the density of their homes, Greencastle builds on In-Fill lots (that's not to say they won't build on a slab). In Florida, builders use concrete slabs for the ground floor that means trucks and trucks of fill dirt. But this just wasn't settling well with Harvey and his team.
After much research, Harvey noticed that dirt was becoming exceedingly scarce and expensive in Southwest Florida, enough so that people were stealing it. Therefore, they found a way to minimize the fill dirt requirement, lessen his cost on a diesel fuel surcharge, and surpass the FEMA flood elevation obligations.
The house is built by using Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF). ICF is a foam material that has a Lego Block's appearance to it. The product is manufactured from high-density expanded polystyrene and recycled PVC or galvanized steel. The material is cut and stacked and then reinforced by horizontal and vertical steel bars. Doors and windows are framed out with pressure treated wood that is resistant to termites, water and fungus.
And once the inspection is passed, concrete is poured in between the ICF panels.
"The ICF Blocks we use are hollow and are about 4 feet long and 16 inches tall," Harvey says. "Construction teams are pleased at the ease of using these preassembled forms because they are much stronger, relatively easy to work with, and since it's made with recycled materials, it reduces the strain on our forests, while being much more energy efficient than regular concrete."
Believe it or not, even the concrete the Greencastle team uses in their homes is also one of those recycled materials. Some of the Portland Cement used in the green homes is substituted with fly ash, a waste product from electricity generation. Basically, when coal is burned to fuel the power plants, the waste product is ash and for years this ash was being dumped in landfills. But recently, they discovered that if you add this to concrete, it has really interesting qualities in which builders can use less water and still get a better flow thanks to the microscopic structure of the fly ash. And not only is the flow of the concrete better, but it sets up stronger, as well.
Then, an adhesive self-sealing product such as Ice and Water Shield is poured over the entire roof deck instead of felt, or tar paper. This product adheres to the roof deck and is very flat, dramatically reducing the likelihood of water intrusion during and after a storm. (Solar panels are added at customer's request.)
An expanding foam insulation called Icynene is later used on the underside of the roof plywood to create a sealed attic space that prevents warm, moist air from crossing the building envelope and forming condensation.
Finally, impact resistant glass is used on windows and doors of the houses.
"This system of building is the method of construction that FEMA recommends most highly for survival shelters," Harvey explains. "The technique not only has an incredible ability to resist wind and water, but it also has the ability to stop flying debris."
But what about the inside of a Greencastle home?
Interior walls are built using steel studs. The studs are not only recyclable, but they are also straighter than wood and fire and termite resistant, as well. Recycled drywall, stucco, and environment-friendly paint is later used, that's almost 12 inches of wall thickness after everything is done compared to 10 inches of wall thickness on a conventional home.
The tightness of the building construction in the home calls for a quieter more comfortable living structure. The air-quality of the house is much cleaner. And the house itself requires less maintenance.
All products and appliances are ENERGY STAR qualified products made to help save money, reduce gas emissions, and conserve energy.
"Homes built with the concrete insulation system are 50% stronger than a conventional home, have far more sound insulation, and can produce a 50 – 70% reduction in energy costs," Harvey says.
Just think about it, tomorrows house, today for only a little over $100 a square-foot, almost pennies in energy costs, and less of a consumption of natural resources.
That's what convinced Juan and Maelee Madrigal, a couple in their 30s, looking to do things differently.
"We decided on green building because we wanted to start and take part in the mini-trend that is going on around the nation," Juan Madrigal says. "My wife and I are looking for another way to do things. Our drive is to save energy and benefit from recycled materials that are readily available. When we met with Shawn, he had us at hello with our building project, but it's also just our part to do this for our future."
The Madrigal's are building a 1900 square-foot, energy-efficient home in Fort Myers, FL. They stumbled upon Greencastle after a builder they started working with two years ago left them high and dry and without a home.
"Maelee and I did a lot of research and Shawn and his team have gone above and beyond to give us what we want," Juan says. "His knowledge on green building is superb and he takes the time to research and look for products that will help us save even more like recycled drywall."
This family expects to be enjoying their "green project" sometime in late December.
And by the looks of it, Greencastle's idea of "green" expands beyond just their team. Harvey explained that he and his crew understand that helping the environment cannot be done by two handfuls of individuals.
"We are willing to work with people to develop plans," he says. "Greencastle is on the cutting edge of this market. We encourage our homeowners to watch, ask questions, and become participants in the process. Most home builders won't allow a homeowner to participate in the building project. This sets us apart from these builders right away. It comes back to the philosophy of being co-creators. It's not just building or commerce to us, there is an artistic approach to this that is really important to me and my team. If someone is building a house custom, they have a vision. They are people who think outside the box. And we try to be the builders who think outside the box also."
But the ideas haven't ceased just yet. Currently, Harvey is looking into an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) which gives a constant source of fresh air that is introduced to the house without wasting energy.
"The mechanism basically exchanges the air eight times a day for fresh air," he explains. "So, every 3 hours, you have a complete change of air in the house with a reduction of humidity and a cooling all at the same time. However, I'm not just stopping here. We are looking to building a zero-energy home, in other words a home which can produce all the energy required on its own."
Imagine that-- energy efficiency, indoor air quality, less waste, and overall safety all done on its own!
To Harvey, this is more than just about global warming and there are so many reasons to think about green.
"If you are familiar with Stephen Covey who talks about the win, win, you will understand our theory," Harvey says. "I'm always looking for the win, win situation. And it's not a real win if our customer, for instance, doesn't feel like they won too. There has to be a partnership where everyone feels good about what they are getting and what they are doing for our future, including the people working on our homes. I'm a believer that care is very important when you are providing a product or service. And everyone that works on our houses cares about what we are doing. They don't all understand every aspect, but they do understand that it's more than a theory. It's about living a theory with a conscious effort."