A NEW COMMUNITY IN THE FLORIDA PANHANDLE, Alys Beach, is breaking new ground, both literally and figuratively. Scott Henson, general manger, and his company, Wave Construction, owned by EBSCO Industries of Birmingham, Ala., are creating a different kind of project by taking green building seriously. Rather than just upgrading the HVAC and adding some insulation, Henson is choosing green all the way, following the environmental thread from excavation to occupancy, from relocating native trees to painting roofs and walls white. He and his team have future generations in mind.

“We have an EBSCO-salaried employee [Christian Wagley] on staff who is strictly in charge of environmental oversight,” Henson notes. “[Wagley] identifies low-VOC [volatile organic compound] paints, studies our soil treatments, and many other things. He also looks at everything from toilets to reducing freon use.”

Indeed, even on tough material choices, such as insulation, Wagley was able to explain during our BUILDER site visit why one product was selected over another. For instance, he can explain the environmental and durability differences between ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary) pressure-treated wood and the phased-out CCA (chromated copper arsenate) version. And he acknowledges that compromises sometimes have to be made, to meet market demands.

COOL COMFORT: HVAC expert John Adkins (top, left) designed the geothermal cooling system for Alys Beach. A “pump and dump” system, it returns water to the aquifer after using it to extract heat from the home.

COOL COMFORT: HVAC expert John Adkins (top, left) designed the geothermal cooling system for Alys Beach. A “pump and dump” system, it returns water to the aquifer after using it to extract heat from the home.

For example, the homes contain builtin tubing for treating the home with pesticides behind the walls. While some might question the use of chemicals in a “green” home, Wagley notes that many Florida homeowners regularly wrap their entire home in a tent and subject it to a debugging fog. As an alternative, this targeted exterminating process keeps the bug juice out of living areas. It's just one of many decisions Wagley had to make, based on the reality of how people live in their homes.

TOUGH TO BEAT

A choice that fit well within the Alys Beach green building commitment was the decision to meet the Fortified for Safer Living specifications. Created by a nonprofit, industry-sponsored group called the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) in Tampa, Fla., the Fortified program adds durability and safety features and is currently being tested in the Southeast.

Fortified guidelines include features such as adding extra rebar and tie-downs to concrete-block homes and siting buildings to minimize window exposure to high winds. As a result, homes have hurricane resistance that exceeds even the tough new Florida codes. Potential buyers end up with reduced insurance costs, particularly when insurers hear that fire suppression (sprinklers) is included in every home in the development.

“The sprinklers add about $4,500 per house,” notes project manager Dean Holbrook, “but with that system and the Fortified Home details, you get a [homeowner] insurance savings of 40 percent.”

Many of the builder's efforts to improve durability have the added benefit of boosting energy efficiency. On the tile roofs, for example, Holbrook and his partners have used a “monolithic” system.

CLOSE FIT: To insulate masonry walls, pressure-treated 2x4s (bottom, left) are attached first. Then the cavities are filled with Biobase 501, a spray-on expanding foam. This foam insulation is soy-based and contains no VOCs or solvents.

CLOSE FIT: To insulate masonry walls, pressure-treated 2x4s (bottom, left) are attached first. Then the cavities are filled with Biobase 501, a spray-on expanding foam. This foam insulation is soy-based and contains no VOCs or solvents.

“First, we use a peel-and-stick underlayment,” Holbrook says, “Then we spray a layer of adhesive foam before laying each roof tile, and screw down the tiles. After that we put a slurry coat over the top of the whole roof system.” Two coats of acrylic mastic paint and a final coat of white acrylic latex paint keep the surface from baking itself to death.

HIDDEN VALUES

But many of the most important green features at Alys Beach are subtle, or invisible. The geothermal cooling system (see “Green Perks,” page 138) is perhaps the most significant, but the homes also include many other water- and energy-saving features, such as courtyards lined with porous paving stones and landscaping with indigenous and drought-tolerant plants. Indoor air quality is also addressed by means of solvent-free paints, coatings, and adhesives. And on the community level, compact fluorescent and LED bulbs provide energy-efficient street lighting.