There is much to admire about the new house on Third Avenue N: the open, inviting floor plan, the made-for-entertaining kitchen, the double water views (lake out front, pool out back). • But none of these features come up when state Rep. Rick Kriseman talks about his new home. "I've never been excited about an attic before," he says, "but this . . ." • And he's off, leading his visitors to a nearby hallway. He pulls down the attic stairs and stands back triumphantly. • It's quickly apparent what the excitement is about. No heat emanates from the space above despite a July morning well on its way to sweltering. In fact, the temperature in the attic very nearly matches that inside the living room. • The cool attic is one of several "green" concepts Kriseman and his wife, Kerry, incorporated into the home they built in the wake of a devastating fire in June 2008. • "We saw it as an opportunity," says Kriseman, the ranking Democrat on the state House Committee on Energy. "If you're going to (build an eco-friendly home), it's easier to do from scratch."
The Krisemans were on vacation in Virginia with their two children when they heard about the fire. Updates throughout their 14-hour drive back to St. Petersburg made it apparent that the home would be a total loss.
With the help of family and friends, the couple saved what they could and quickly turned to the next step, rebuilding.
"Your perspective changes when you don't have a choice," Kerry Kriseman says. "You just go on."
The couple interviewed three builders before choosing Deslandes Contracting, owned by brothers Andrew and Steve Deslandes, who grew up next door and used to mow the Krisemans' lawn. ("That was years ago," Andrew Deslandes is quick to point out.)
The Deslandes had never built a green home but were eager to learn, as was residential designer Tim Roney. The project team was then expanded to include Darren Brinkley, whose REAL Building firm provides advice on energy-efficient construction and certifications through the U.S. Green Building Council.
Brinkley made suggestions for design tweaks, product choices and building practices that would meet the council's LEED certification requirements. Homes that are LEED certified are considered the epitome of green construction. Of the four LEED levels, the Kriseman house is being consider for the top, or platinum, ranking.
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The Krisemans continue their tour, noting the bamboo flooring and nontoxic paint, the double-pane windows and the solar water heater. The walls, made of common concrete block, have an environmental twist as well. The blocks were filled with spray insulation and then sandwiched between layers of insulation, turning a wall with a typical R-value of 5 into a structure with an R-value of 25. (R-value refers to insulation's resistance to heat flow. A higher R-value indicates a more effective insulation.)
The attic also benefited from a type of spray insulation called Agribalance, which is a soy-based product and therefore more environmentally friendly than comparable spray insulations.
Outside is a feature that rivals the attic for wow! factor: a rainwater harvesting system several notches above the common rain barrel.
Water drains from the roof into two huge 500-gallon tanks. It is then filtered and pumped into the house to be used for flushing toilets and washing clothes. A spigot off the back of the house also is tied into the system and provides water for washing the deck or topping off the swimming pool. One good Florida rain will nearly fill the tanks, Kriseman says, though the system also is tied into city water should the tanks run dry.
All of these features help the house earn credit under the LEED certification process, but just as important were the procedures followed by the contractors.
"The green concept comes from using local materials if possible, reducing waste and using certain components in construction," says Roney, the home designer.
Recycling was a given, with the contractors separating the materials instead of dumping everything into one huge container bound for the dump. "There was a lot of time spent by the contractors to reduce waste," Roney says.
"It's very easily done, just to spend a little more time," Andrew Deslandes says, "and it's definitely a good-feeling kind of thing."
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Feeling good about the environment only goes so far for most people. Sooner or later, it's about the money.
Everyone involved with the Kriseman project is upfront about building green: It's not cheap.
"There is a significant increase in cost," contractor Steve Deslandes says. Green construction often can qualify for rebates or tax credits, but even with these incentives, you're still likely to pay 25 percent more than the cost of typical construction, and 50 percent more without the rebates or credits, he says.
Brinkley says building to green standards means building to higher standards. A green home will cost more than a standard home because of the quality of the materials, he says.
"You do have to understand you are doing things to a higher standard and higher quality," he says. "You can't build a green house for the same price as a home that is not. If you want green features, you have to sacrifice or compromise other things."
One of the first questions people often ask is how long it will take for green features to pay for themselves, he says. The payback period depends on the features you choose, with some items, such as solar water heaters, paying off much more quickly than others.
"If you're going to be there for 10 years, you're going to pay for a good portion of what you put into it," Steve Deslandes says.
And your savings won't just show up on your monthly bills. Though Kerry Kriseman estimates that their electric bill is $100 less per month than this time two years ago (taking into account rate increases by the power company), "we've actually saved a ton on our insurance," she says. "That's been amazing."
In the rebuilding, the home has greater protection from storms — "A lot of the green stuff we did helped with hurricane strengthening," Kriseman says — and from fire. The couple put in a residential sprinkler system with drop-down sprinkler heads throughout the house and in the attic.
When it came time to insure the new home, the Krisemans were able to almost double their coverage for a third of the cost of their previous premium.
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As green construction becomes more popular, it also likely will become more affordable.
"It's just like when calculators first came on the market. A basic calculator that did addition and subtraction, it was $150. Now you can pick one up for $5 or less," Roney says.
Once the prices come down and more people build with an eye toward the environment, the idea of a "green house" will be better understood as well.
"In 2006, (people) would think I was talking about a place to grow vegetables or a mud hut with branches on it," Brinkley says.
Now, he says, the preconception has changed to "it's for Hollywood or rich people."
"Green homes don't look like mud huts or Hollywood mansions," he says. "They look like every house."
B Buckberry Joyce, Times lifestyles news editor, can be reached at bbuckberry@ sptimes.com or (727) 893-8113.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The soy-based spray foam insulation used in Rep. Rick Kriseman's home ("A greener life ahead," Aug. 8) is Agribalance, a product made by Demilec. A different product was listed in the story. Bayside Installed Building Products of Tampa offers the product locally; call Victor Cristia at (813) 979-0230 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rainwater Harvesting Cistern
AGRIBALANCE spray insulation
Solar HOT water system