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Sustainable Building Techniques for Your Home: An Interview with Jimmy Brattain of Design Works Studios

By Jimmy Brattain

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Design Works is an award-winning full-service design/build firm specializing in evoking the personality of its clients. With the belief that visual importance of detail defines the character of a structure, thus the client, our firm is driven by the process of guiding clients to a destination they did not know existed. Our belief in sustainable building practices produced the first LEED certified green home on the west coast of Florida back in 2010.

Can you briefly explain what a certified LEED building is?

It is a rating system that measures the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED certification provides independent third-party verification that a home was designed and built to achieve high performance in key areas of human and environmental health. Our LEED platinum home was inspected by LEED qualifying agent, Drew Smith of Two Trails located in Sarasota.

There are nine key areas measured by LEED:

Sustainable Sites
Water Efficiency
Energy and Atmosphere
Materials and Resources
Indoor Environmental Quality
Location and Linkages
Awareness and Education
Innovation in Design
Regional Priority

An important feature of a LEED certified building is the assurance the construction is above code with respect to building practices. These homes are built to a higher standard than that which is required by building code. A LEED certification assures buyers and homeowners the home they are buying or building has not been greenwashed, or green or sustainable in name only.

What are some key questions for a future green homeowner to ask before the design process begins?

What are their goals with regard to the sustainability of their home? Energy efficiency, to what degree? Off the grid, solar, affordable? Water efficiency, to what degree? Health issues to address? Low maintenance? Proper selection of the design team and how much sustainability experience have they had? Location of home. Design style.

How popular are sustainable and energy-efficient homes? What are some of the top benefits for homeowners?

Sustainable construction practices produce energy-efficient homes. Forget the cliche that green homes are built by and for tree huggers. Anyone who opens an electric bill each month should be interested in sustainable building practices. Depending on the budget, utility bills in some cases can be reduced as much as 90% to 100%. The average home buyers however are not willing to spend a great deal of money for the features like solar electric and rainwater harvesting as the ROI could be as many as 15-20 years in the future.

The typical cost to incorporate sustainable building elements is approximately an additional 10% on the average. Besides lower utility bills, a few of the lesser known benefits are better indoor air quality, low home maintenance and insurance costs, and a reduced impact on the environment.

What are the most commonly used sustainable features in Florida homes?

- High-efficiency HVAC systems
- High-efficiency windows, typically low E, insulated, tinted, impact rated
- Open cell spray foam insulation to create a sealed attic cavity
- Low VOC paints
- Minimal carpet, mostly hard surface floors
- LED lighting
- Low-flow plumbing fixtures
- Variable speed pool pumps
- Zero or water-wise landscaping

What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to designing and building environmentally conscious homes?

From a design perspective, I see no challenges. Although in 2009 when submitting plans to the building department, officials did not know how best to approve our rainwater collection system which used rainwater to flush the home's toilets. The issue was how would the city's utility company accurately charge the homeowner for sewer usage as the calculation is based on the water meter which shows how much water runs through the meter, not the actual usage in the home. Hiring someone like Dew Smith from Two Trails is a must. He actually helped me in some of the design aspects of the LEED Platinum home. There are less sophisticated design elements such as passive solar lighting, larger overhangs and southern exposure which help in significant savings over the course of time.

As for challenge in building environmentally conscious homes, it's education. Helping everyone involved understand that sustainability does not cost money, it saves money. A properly built environmentally conscious home begins paying back the homeowner the day they move in with lower utility bills, lower maintenance, and a healthier indoor environment. Overcoming budget constraints is a matter of laying out to the buyer on what they should be considering: Should they spend money on the pretty granite countertop or more efficient windows? I have not constructed a home in the last five years which did not use spray foam insulation over blown in or batt insulation. I simply won't do it. My clients thank me later.

How do the costs of building and maintaining an eco-friendly home compare with those of a typical home?

With features such as high-efficiency HVAC systems and windows, open cell spray foam insulation, low-flow plumbing fixtures and LED lighting, costs are typically about 50% less on an eco-friendly home.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

Info@designworksflorida.com
727-647-0574

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