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South Tampa doctors build a green house with rainwater system, solar panels


When it rains, it pours — into a 5,000-gallon tank under Anna and Michael Parsons' new home. Rain will flow from their kitchen tap, wash their clothes and stream from their shower head.

The Parsonses, both doctors at Tampa General Hospital, plan to move next week into an $800,000 house that uses only rainwater and some of the newest ideas in sustainable living.

They will find out how "green" their house is after a rating Saturday by the U.S. Green Building Council. They hope to score the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED, rating: platinum. It would be the first building in Tampa to do so.

The couple have watched the house go up across the street from where they live now. For Anna, 58, building a green home was a matter of saving environmental resources. For Michael, 59, it was saving money.

"Different motives, same outcome," she said.

The custom 2,700-square-foot home at 4204 Culbreath Ave. is an investment in comfort and security, the couple say.

There's a safe room for shelter in a hurricane and cork flooring in the master bathroom made of leftovers from wine bottling companies. Every room is wheelchair accessible.

In a neighborhood of McMansions, they have downsized from the bigger home they plan to sell, valued at $614,000, according to the Hillsborough Property Appraiser's Office.

In the new home, they will use LED lights with 20-year bulbs. Energy-efficient appliances and natural lighting should keep their electric bill at about $100 a month, down from their summer rate of $400 in their old home. Solar panels on the roof of the detached garage will likely bring the bill down further, they say.

Darren Brinkley, president of REAL Building Group, designed the house to be one of the most efficient in the country, he said. It's highly insulated and is heated and cooled with a geothermal system.

Building green doesn't have to cost more or take longer, he said. Brinkley lives in a LEED-certified home in St. Petersburg and has designed several others. He hired engineers to help with his vision for the Parsons' rainwater system. Rain will drain from the roof and will be funneled through four sediment filters and a final ultraviolet filter before pouring out of the home's taps.

The system is backed up by city water, should theirs run out or malfunction. Also underground is a 70-gallon tank for gray water from shower drains, pumped back to flush toilets.

Another innovation is the rooftop weather station, designed from the concept of a Florida Cracker house. When the station detects cooler and less humid air outside than inside, downstairs windows will open automatically, creating a draft to upstairs windows, allowing the house to "breathe," Brinkley said.

Windows and doors cost $80,000 and were the biggest single expense. They filter rays and can withstand hurricane winds and flying debris.

Outside, Florida native plants blanket the front yard. Inside is rubber-tree flooring from a Tampa company.

The house is barn red, a popular color in Sweden, a nod to Anna's heritage.

Inside, she sits at a breakfast nook. "This is the place people will be drawn to," she says, running her hand across a thick cypress tabletop. "It's like a fireplace hearth."

The cypress was a 400-year-old tree when it was cut and floated downriver to a sawmill about a hundred years ago, she said. When the heavy tree sank, workers abandoned it. The couple bought the tree from Goodwin Heart Pine in Micanopy, near Gainesville, a company that recovers lumber from riverbeds.

More cypress planks cover countertops. A small oven doubles as a microwave, but there's no stove top. They will use induction cooktops, which use less energy and can be stored when not needed.

A wooden spiral staircase leads to a lofty library with 15 windows. A door from the library leads to an upstairs rooftop deck, where the couple recall first dreaming of this house.

They have lived across the street for about 20 years but bought this property for $150,000 in 1994. They used the small house here for babysitters when their children were young.

The roof leaked, so the couple spent many hours repairing it. Once they did, they found the location perfect for a rooftop perch, open to the front street and the back yard, where a 50-year-old oak tree stands.

They tore the small house down and worked around the tree to build anew.

Now on their rooftop deck, they've installed outdoor speakers to play Frank Sinatra and plan to grow tomatoes in EarthBoxes under the boughs of the oak.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at or (813) 226-3431.

South Tampa doctors build a green house with rainwater system, solar panels 09/23/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 23, 2010 4:30am]
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