Government talks a green living game but doesn’t play it
For years I tried to convince builders and developers to build green housing in Miami-Dade County with no success. Being realtor, architect and former Gables Green Task Force chair, I believed there was demand for green homes.
I took the challenge and built the first two Green Homes in Little Gables. Going through this journey gave me new insight into why green living has not taken root in South Florida.
While elected officials express support for green or sustainable living, there is little political will, interest, commitment or follow-through.
In 2005 Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance to expedite the review and approval of building permit applications for green buildings “to promote environmentally sensitive design and construction.” The ordinance is nebulous and does not go far enough to make a difference. Most people at building and zoning don’t even know it exists; many make it more difficult for those trying break out of the mold.
When in the fall of 2012 I started the permitting process for my new green homes, the building plan processors didn’t even have a stamp that said Green Building – EXPEDITE. So my documents were stamped Government Project – EXPEDITE.
Even after a green building stamp became available, there was no computer entry field for green building – the houses were classified as Government Project.
While that classification alerted processors to expedite the review, it created unnecessary reviews not required for residential projects. Some departments did not believe the ordinance applied to them so they refused to expedite, and during construction no one even tried to make the process easier to help us finish early. I didn’t save any time and actually took longer than a conventional house with no expediting.
Green homes cost 5%-10% more than conventional homes. There are no government subsidies for developers or time savings as a result of this ordinance to offset the added cost.
Consumers do not know the benefits of green homes and therefore are not willing to pay the additional costs associated with green homes. Most buyers are not focused on quality and operating costs – they want bigger homes for less price that cost more to operate.
Those factors combined discourage developers from taking a risk building more energy-efficient homes in South Florida.
The two green homes I built, if built as conventional homes, would spend $200-$300 per month on electricity – my first month of normal operation as a home resulted in $52.77. With today’s technologies and materials it is possible to build new buildings that are 60%-75% more energy efficient and remodel old buildings to become 30%-50% more energy efficient – I know because I have done both and have the data to prove it.
What would be the economic impact on FPL if we made our older buildings 30%-50% more energy efficient? How would FPL and Miami-Dade County fare if all new buildings were 60%-75% more energy efficient, completely energy neutral or off the grid?
We now have the technology to disconnect buildings from the power grid and even water and sewer. The impact to utilities and other monopolies could be devastating if it occurred too quickly.
Don’t wait for your elected officials to lead you into a sustainable lifestyle. Since those who pay to keep them in office are going to be negatively impacted, politicians are not going to make energy conservation and alternative energy their priority. It is up to you to research and use your financial means to encourage other developers and builders to build more green homes in South Florida.
You are welcome to see the two green homes I build in Little Gables. Learn more about this new type of housing that saves money and natural resources while providing you a healthier environment and better quality of life.
Carlos Ruiz is an architect, past president of Miami AIA, first chair of Coral Gables Green Task Force, a realtor with EWM, developer of green homes and recipient of 2012 Green Leader Award from the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce.