Forging an environmental friendship
Roberto Carrion is expecting visitors to his new Lake County home early next year.

In fact, he's expecting not one, not two, but thousands, even before he has had a chance to settle in.

Although the three-level, lakefront home will be completed in mid-December, Carrion and his wife, Cyndi, won't be moving in until at least March. This will be after the home has served its purpose as a showcase home for the 2008 International Builders' Show Feb. 13-16 in Orlando.

The waiting will be "torture," Carrion says, but he's willing to wait because he thinks it's important that builders have a chance to see what is possible when you set out to build a high-performance home.

Carrion's home is one of several demonstration homes built for the industry event, which is expected to draw more than 100,000 construction professionals from the United States and abroad. The Carrions' 5,440-square-foot house also will be open for public tours during the Lake County Parade of Homes, which is planned for Feb. 23 through March 2.

The project -- called the Vision House 2008 -- will demonstrate the benefits of sustainable design, construction techniques and products, with an emphasis on alternative building systems, resource conservation, nontoxic and recycled products, natural materials and appropriate land use.

One of Carrion's priorities is protecting the environment. The home overlooks Lake Apopka in the Gourd Neck Springs neighborhood near Montverde, which is teeming with osprey, alligators and other wildlife.

"I wanted to build a green house because I wanted to build a better house," says Carrion.

"I wanted to build a home that is more durable and can withstand the test of time -- and can stand the beatings that the Florida climate will bring upon it, including extreme heat, hurricane-force winds and hurricane-force rain. We're incorporating a lot of building-science principles into this home."

Here are a few of the ways the Vision House addresses environmental concerns:

Saving energy. To reduce solar heat gain, the house was designed with large overhangs and a minimal number of east- and west-facing windows.

The undersides of roof overhangs are lined with white trim, which helps diffuse sunlight and direct it into the home. This daylighting concept allows homeowners to enjoy natural light with less heat gain, and in doing so, reduces the need for electric lights and air conditioning.

Clerestory windows on the south and north sides, too, will provide minimal heat gain while allowing natural light to flow into the home. Six skylights, including one above the centrally located staircase, also were placed for maximum daylighting effects.

Ductwork is in a nonvented attic that has been insulated with spray-foam insulation, which will cut down on heating and cooling costs.

The house also will have energy-efficient windows, lighting and appliances.

Water conservation and management. The house features low-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads and fixtures, and water-saving appliances. An aerobic wastewater treatment system will allow water from showers, faucets and the washing machine to be reused for irrigation. Cistern tanks will store up to 7,000 gallons of rainwater that also can be used for irrigation.

These water-saving measures are expected to conserve more than 300,000 gallons of water each year.

Strength, durability and storm resistance. The home is constructed of durable structural insulated panels, which are favored for their strength, energy efficiency and labor-saving qualities. These prefabricated composite panels consist of a foam core sandwiched between two sheets of oriented strand board. They arrived on-site with door and window openings already cut, helping to reduce on-site labor.

The house was designed with a hipped roof rather than gables, making it less vulnerable to hurricane-force winds and rain. The nonvented attic eliminates a potential source of water intrusion during storms.

To further protect the house from water problems, extra layers of weather-resistant barriers were installed on the roof and walls. A self-adhered, rubberized membrane under the roof shingles, for example, repels water. On the walls, a waterproof plastic sheet is topped with an impermeable polyethylene membrane in a dimple-and-groove design that serves as a drainage plane for any moisture that gets through the outer barrier.

Instead of using typical stucco for the home's exterior, the builders chose a product made of lime stucco and recycled glass, which will better protect the house from heavy rain. If hairline cracks develop, any moisture that seeps in will set off a crystallizing process that helps seal them.

Indoor air quality. To eliminate the possibility of mold, the house is being built with a paperless drywall, and interior wall surfaces will be a natural earth plaster that absorbs humidity and resists mold growth. Eco-friendly paint -- which doesn't emit harmful fumes -- will be used.

Environment-friendly landscaping and pool. Invasive vegetation along the lakefront property was eradicated to make room for site-appropriate trees and plants, which will create a welcoming environment for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Palm trees on the home site have been relocated and protected during construction; they will be replanted in front of the house.

To manage stormwater runoff, the landscape plan incorporates swales and rain gardens, as well as pervious surfaces, which allow rainwater to soak directly into the ground.

The 30-by-17-foot pool will use a salt-chlorine sanitation system, solar heating and energy-efficient variable-speed pumps.

Recycling. Leftover construction materials -- wood, concrete, plastic, metal -- are being recycled rather than hauled off to a landfill. Scrap wood will be made into mulch and used for landscaping.

Also, many of the building materials and products will feature recycled content, including the boat dock, rear decks, a koi pond bridge and exterior railings. All will be built from a material composed of recycled plastic bags and reclaimed wood. The long-lasting material will not rot or splinter and resists damage from insects and moisture. It contains no harmful chemicals and does not require painting or staining.