Built To Last
Tropical Storm Fay zigged and zagged across Florida over seven days in August of 2008, moving from west to east and west again, before finally departing for points north.
Among those who found themselves in the storm’s path of destruction were Arlington residents Steve Sadler and Michaela Miller. Fay left the interior of their riverfront home, a brick ranch built in the 1950s, full of standing water and massive damage.
“The toughest part was the emotional aspect,” said Miller. “We lost everything but four pieces of furniture and one pair of shoes.”
The husband and wife were also left with a choice to make, rebuild or start over somewhere else. Staying put would require that a house be elevated to stand at least 6 feet off the ground, since it clearly was in a flood zone. Then, an outside voice set them on a new path.
“We were going through our options when a friend suggested we deconstruct [the existing home] and rebuild green,” Miller said.
By January of 2009, the couple had embraced the notion of “going green” and had a plan of action. First, they’d rescue whatever possible from the existing structure, an effort that resulted in only four dumpsters worth of debris heading to the landfill. Then, the reclaimed pieces would join new materials for the next phase of the plan: The two would not simply build an eco-friendly house, but a high-performance structure worthy of LEED Platinum certification.
Awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification — or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is a program that provides third-party verification of green buildings. According to the USGBC, a LEED home is designed to save energy, water (and costs associated with each) and to provide a healthy environment for families.
By March of 2010, with Sadler having served as the owner/contractor, the two had completed a 4,170-square-foot showhouse for the green movement. Dubbed “Villa Paraiso” (Paradise Villa), its eco-friendly features include dozens of photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity, a geothermal heating system, two 1,500-gallon tanks that allow for recycling of rainwater, and other touches that make it both sustainable and self-sufficient.
The structure not only achieved LEED’s Platinum rating — one of only 19 in Florida and 1,045 worldwide to hit that mark — but it also earned dozens of other awards for its design, landscaping and efficiency including Energy Star, Water Star Gold and Sustainable Florida Green Building. Monthly electric bills average $100 for the home, despite its large size and being equipped with the latest in high-tech conveniences and appliances.
“It’s just a really good feeling to know that construction can be done responsibly, without the waste,” said Miller.
The house is sturdy, too. Miller and Sadler went above the required height for the flood zone to 9 feet, and steel framing means it can endure winds from a category 5 hurricane and a 9-foot storm surge or flooding.
And while it can withstand nature’s fury, the house was designed so the river and spectacular views can be appreciated. Seventy percent of the exterior walls are either glass or doors, allowing for river and downtown views from every room.
With the dream of Villa Paraiso achieved, Sadler and Miller are ready to move on to their next project, creating another LEED-worthy building somewhere on the First Coast. Their unique home will be available for auction next weekend (see Sidebar), ready to start another chapter in its interesting history.
“It’s time for us to downsize,” said Miller, “and let the next family enjoy this home.”