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Cracker-style home in Hernando County wins kudos for conservation features

Judy Yates and Mike Lyles don't seem to be suffering any hardship from consuming about half as much electricity and less than one-third as much water as the average county household.

They weren't huddled against the cold on Wednesday morning.

There is no shortage of modern electrical appliances, showers or flush toilets at their year-old Cracker-style home in Ridge Manor.

There's no lack of green in their 1.5-acre yard, on a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Withlacoochee River.

As a matter of fact, if you judge luxury by handmade cabinets, hickory floors and stone fireplaces that open to both the living room and the master bedroom, and if you judge it by the number of ideal spots to sit with an evening martini — including, for starters, just about anywhere on the porch that wraps around three sides of the house — it's hard to imagine that anyone has it much better.

So, no painful lifestyle choices are needed to live in a house that, when it comes to accumulating environmental bling, beats any in county history.

It's the first in Hernando to achieve certification for water conservation from the Southwest Florida Water Management District's Florida Water Star Gold program; it's also the first here, and one of only a handful in the state, to be awarded Platinum certification from the Florida Green Building Coalition.

Nor did Lyles and Yates go broke on this house — at least not on the environmental upgrades. The builder, Brian Blankenship of Diamond Construction in Spring Hill, estimated the upgrades added 10 percent to the $400,000 cost of the house, which includes 2,500 square feet of living space and, with the wrap-around porch and first-floor garage, a total of about twice that amount.

Building on a flood- and sinkhole-prone lot added a lot more to the cost — about $100,000. So did high-end features such as the metal roof.

"That alone probably cost them $30,000,'' Blankenship said.

What does it take, then, to drastically reduce the damage we all do by setting up a household on this earth?

First, we can stop equating luxury to gobbling up resources — the mind-set responsible for McMansions, SUVs and Greyhound-sized "recreational'' vehicles.

Then it takes information, which came easily to Lyles, 63, and Yates, 61. She is the former director of the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service who, after her retirement, joined her husband at his environmental company, Riverwood Consulting.

A lot of the conservation features are old rather than new: rain barrels under downspouts, porches, high ceilings (with fans), and big doors and windows fitted with double-paned glass to keep out the wind on cold days and screens to let it flow through on warm ones.

They created a yard that needs little irrigation — and no fertilizer that could run into the river — mostly by leaving plants in place, including lots of oaks, pines and cypresses.

Energy-saving materials used in the house also add strength — and to the value of their investment. The foam-concrete used in the walls insulates far better than standard block and can withstand winds of up to 235 mph; a 6-inch layer of foam under the roof and floor fills in every air space.

The toilets, for reasons that I hopefully don't need to explain, can be flushed with either 0.8 or 1.6 gallons of water. The water heater is centrally located to cut down on the waiting time for hot water to get to the taps.

The house is built to accommodate solar panels and filters to recycle water from showers and sinks when the costs of these technologies come down. But for now, you won't see anything "tragically expensive'' in the house, Lyles said, and "nothing radical.''

"You can have a very comfortable, very efficient house without a lot of high-tech, strange-looking stuff,'' Lyles said.

"It's just a good place to live,'' Yates said.

Actually, I'd call it downright luxurious.


To learn more about conservation

For information about the Southwest Florida Water Management District's Florida Water Star Gold program, go to on the Web. For information about the Florida Green Building Coalition, go to

Cracker-style home in Hernando County wins kudos for conservation features 02/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 11, 2010 8:06pm]
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