We all find ourselves admonishing the kids for leaving lights on and wasting energy, but the truth is, the energy thief is not the people living in your house—it’s your home itself. According to a 2020 Global Status Report released by the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme, buildings like your home and office represent around 40 percent of both global energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, making buildings a major contributor to climate change.
Thankfully, many professionals constructing buildings today are committed to using green building processes to reduce the impact their industry has on the health of humans and the environment. Palm City–based Abney + Abney Green Solutions is a sustainable building consulting firm that works with owners, developers, architects, and builders on green projects. Owner Kyle Abney explains that sustainable building, commonly referred to as green building, encompasses numerous different elements of the building process.
“Sustainable building utilizes best-in-class building strategies and practices in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection, and indoor environmental quality,” he says. “In short, sustainable buildings are designed to help reduce the overall impact on the environment and human health before, during, and
A fifth-generation Floridian and the son of a builder, Abney first discovered the concept of sustainable design as a student at the University of Florida. At that time, he also learned there was a lack of environmentally friendly design happening and large amounts of waste regularly generated by construction. Passionate about creating change, he became the first person in the United States to obtain a construction degree with a concentration in
Abney recognized early on that the need for sustainable building was even more critical in South Florida. “Given our unique environment, climate resiliency is a
significant focus,” he says. “With Florida’s sea level rising as much as an inch every three years, according to NOAA [National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration] tidal station data, factoring nature’s upcoming shifts into construction plans is crucial. We must reduce our energy and water use so future generations have access to these essential resources.”
One of Abney’s favorite sustainable design projects is Sailfish Splash Waterpark in Stuart. Built in 2012, the park’s building strategies included diverting 75 percent of construction waste from landfills by recycling and salvaging construction and land clearing waste. The project also achieved a 39 percent savings in energy performance by incorporating systems such as sensors that automatically turn off lighting whenever occupants leave a space. “It’s a project we completed several years ago but continues to earn me ‘cool dad’ points,” says Abney.
Bill Daly, vice president of Carrere General Contractors in Hobe Sound, called on Abney for help when a local couple came to him and asked him to build a sustainable home—the first truly “green home” in Martin County. The completed single-family home in the Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City earned a Gold LEED certification. (LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. Gold is the second-highest level of certification.)
“The process was entirely different than the traditional construction process,” says Daly. “You have to be very specific about the materials you use.” Many of the materials were sourced from within a 500-mile radius, including cypress and heart pine that was river-recovered (a process of reclaiming wood from river bottoms) from the north Florida area and used for floors, ceilings, and doors. The home earned extra points for energy efficiency and utilizing solar and gas.
While it is rare for a home to achieve such a high level of sustainable design, Daly credits the homeowners for their progressive mindset toward green building. After all, it is projects like these that hopefully will create a ripple effect, prompting more homeowners to consider the environment in their renovation or construction plans.
“Builders need to educate themselves on the latest sustainable products and work them into their designs,” says Robert Brandon Jr., president of Jupiter-based Atlantic Crest Homes. Brandon has been designing and building homes in South Florida for more than 30 years, most recently in Abacoa in Jupiter and the Rivella community in Port St. Lucie. He continuously seeks out new ways to build with minimal environmental impact while still delivering maximum benefits to homeowners. “Sustainable building starts at the beginning of a project with considerations like how to orient the home to minimize sun exposure,” says Brandon. “Everything from choice of insulation to what paint you use to which appliances go into your kitchen can make a big difference in conserving energy and saving our planet.”
Brandon regularly opts for features that reduce energy consumption, including high-efficiency appliances, tankless water heaters, UV-protective exterior paint, high R-value insulation, and Low-E (emissive) impact windows that reflect heat. For interior finishes, he uses sustainable materials such as bamboo flooring and Mohawk Everstrand carpeting made from 100 percent recycled materials.
He encourages homeowners to do their own independent research before building a new residence and become informed about the process. “Sustainable products have gotten more cost-effective, and it doesn’t take very long for a home buyer to reap the long-term benefits of energy savings and efficiency,” he says.
On the commercial front, two local corporations are leading the way in green building in our area. Carrier Global Corporation’s headquarters, located just east of I-95 off Donald Ross Road in Palm Beach Gardens, was the first commercial building in the state to earn LEED Platinum certification. A world leader in building and cold chain solutions such as HVAC, refrigeration, and fire and security, Carrier designed the 224,000-square-foot building known as the Center for Intelligent Buildings with green-forward technology like Abound, a cloud-based digital platform that tracks, manages, and reports factors such as energy efficiency and carbon emissions within the building, allowing for real-time adjustments.
A little farther south, Florida Power & Light’s brand new office building near I-95 and PGA Boulevard features not only the energy efficiency you would expect from the largest power utility in Florida but a host of sustainable aspects inside and out as well. The six-story, 266,000-square-foot building is constructed with LED lighting, low flow plumbing fixtures, high-performance mechanical systems, and 38 electric vehicle charging stations. A solar array on the top level of the parking structure generates renewable energy while providing shade. The building, which houses 1,000 employees, is designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, allowing the utility to continue operations if it is forced to leave its Juno Beach headquarters.
When architect Niki Norton was building her new office space in Stuart, she brought her love for sustainable design into the equation. The N2 Architecture + Design building on Southeast Ocean Boulevard features a front desk made from reclaimed rough fawn cedar, workstations built with wood doors, and chair rails created from old wood parquet floors that were rescued after a law office renovation. In 2017, the N2 office was awarded “Most Outstanding Green Interior Design – Small” by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“If I’m promoting building green and being sustainable, I need to show that in my office,” says Norton, who also updated the lighting system to LED and stripped the floors down to concrete for a more energy-efficient environment. “I am always interested in energy efficiency, especially in Florida where it is hot, hot, hot!”
Norton is quick to educate her clients on the merits of sustainable design and why it is smart and not as costly as they may think. “There is a misconception about the cost of being sustainable,” she says. “I like to use the example of insulation and HVAC tonnage.” Norton explains that using the right insulation in the right places helps create a “building envelope,” which is everything that separates the internal building from the external environment. Better protection from Florida’s heat on the outside means that inside, the HVAC unit doesn’t have to work as hard. “You can buy a lower tonnage unit and save a lot of money if you invest in better insulation,” she adds.
Norton is hopeful about the future of sustainable design, noting that green building materials are more readily available today. “I would like to see more general contractors and design-build professionals take advantage of the sustainable products that are available now and make a difference,” she says.
Kyle Abney sees the industry already changing for the better. “Two decades ago, green building certifications were introduced and set the precedent for change,” he says. “I believe that 20 years from now, there will likely be less need for ‘green-certified’ projects because green-building practices are already being incorporated into building codes.”
It is a future that has been a long time coming. “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Henry David Thoreau wrote in the nineteenth century. With sustainable building practices becoming more and more prevalent, future generations will be able to enjoy both a comfortable house and a healthy planet around it.
Abney + Abney Green Solutions, abneygreen.com; Carrere General Contractors, carrere.com; Atlantic Crest Homes, atlanticcresthomes.com; N2 Architecture + Design, n2archdesign.com; Carrier Global Corporation, carrier.com; Florida Power & Light, fpl.com
5 Ways to Greenify Your Home
Rey and Michelle Mendez, owners of the Rustic Rooster in Stuart, have been using reclaimed and sustainable materials to create custom home furnishings since 2003. Here, they offer tips on how you can incorporate sustainable design elements into your existing home.
Embrace reclaimed wood. When choosing furniture, Rey loves to see imported teak and pine in cabinets and tables. Barn wood is plentiful in the United States and can be used in a variety of furniture and decor.
Choose eco-friendly upholstery. Furniture manufacturers like Rowe use fabrics produced with natural and renewable fibers, as well as wood from replenished, domestic forests for the frames.
Refinish existing pieces. “If Grandma’s old dresser is avocado green, you can do something with that,” says Michelle. Quality wood pieces can get a new, modern look with eco-friendly paints and finishes.
Repurpose. Many materials can be reimagined for a different use. “Antique doors make great wall art or a headboard for a bed,” says Michelle. Metal pipes, tree roots, old bricks, and weathered wood can all be repurposed into home decor.
Go for quality. If you are going to buy new, save up for a quality piece. “Invest in solid wood furniture instead of things that aren’t sustainably sourced,” says Michelle. “You’ll have it a long time and can always refinish it later.”