Green from the Ground Up
You don’t need a fortune in specialty materials to build a space that is budget- and Earth-friendly. All it takes are thoughtful planning and savvy spending.
The idea of Green living is nothing new. Until recently, it was just called good sense. Long before air-conditioning, Southerners knew that higher ceilings and wider porches made for cooler houses. Historically, it has been Green practices more than Green products that have made homes work with their surroundings. In their Vero Beach, Florida, home, architects Peter Moor and Mary Juckiewicz prove that budgeting and traditional Southern building techniques can create an eco-efficient abode full of fresh style.
"We wanted the house to respond well to the landscape and the local environment," says Peter of their design. So he positioned the house on the site to work best with coastal breezes and the angle of the sun. In other words, he wanted to beat the heat. Buildings tend to absorb the most heat on the east and west sides, so he put porches on the east and dense vegetation on the west to reduce solar gain. "'Solar gain' is just a technical term for 'making your house hot," Peter quips. Meanwhile, ocean breezes from the southeast or cool northeast breezes hit the house on the long sides, passing through windows and French doors and cooling the interior. Because the narrow end of the house faces the driveway where guests arrive, a louvered door opening onto the loggia acts as the front door. The protected porch space allows the rooms to be opened to the outside with few weather worries.
Peter and Mary took cues from traditional tropical-climate architecture. The room arrangement is inspired by West Indies and lower Louisiana Creole structures. "We kept the house one room deep," he says. "So we have 360 degrees of light and ventilation." The rooms are arranged en suite, one room spills into the next without unnecessary interior hallways that have to be artificially heated or cooled.
They kept their main living area on the second floor of the house. The living room, kitchen, and master bedroom are about 12 feet above ground level. "Most humidity collects near the ground and around plant material," Peter says, "so by going up, we are removed from that collected heat and have the best shot at feeling the breeze." The view is nice too!
Simplicity also played a big role in the look of the house. “We didn’t want to create a huge waste of materials for grandiose reasons,” Peter says. “We wanted the construction to be the delight.” You won’t find heavy interior moldings and embellishments here. Drywall was wrapped around corners and reinforced without the need for trim work. The 8-inch-wide masonry units (a fancy way of saying “cinder blocks”) were a sustainable and economical choice for the exterior walls. “They’re relatively inexpensive, they offer great insulation, they’re strong, and their depth gives the house a look of soundness and stability,” says Peter.