This is the eleventh installment of a blog series we’re calling “Sarasota Sizzle.” What’s “sizzle,” you ask? The Blink;Tech team’s definition of “sizzle” is what happens at the local intersection of creativity, technology, and entrepreneurship. The more we look around us in Sarasota, the more we discover people, businesses, projects, and initiatives that “sizzle.” And when something sizzles, it’s too good not to share.
As the first “green building” to be used for demonstration purposes, the Florida House has been a beacon of environmentally conscious living in Sarasota for decades, and with a new venture capital campaign empowering a five-year development plan, it is now shining brighter than ever. The Florida House was first established to demonstrate alternatives to water conservation a year before the U.S. Green Building Council was formed, yet its vision has broadened quite a bit since 1992. Although it sat largely dormant for a few years after its move to Beneva Road in 2008, the Florida House now makes its way through the third year of a new, multifaceted plan to help Sarasota become the community many really want it to be.
As a hands-on learning center, The Florida House Institute follows four metrics for home improvement, and uses these principles to demonstrate how any house can be retrofitted to increase the quality of life for residents and neighbors. First, they consider Ecological concerns, such as water and permaculture. Secondly, they look at Structure, considering the design and materials in the home. Third, they look at how Energy is provided to the home, and lastly, they look at Health and Well-Being, demonstrating raised beds and other progressive gardening techniques to grow food, herbs and other helpful plants.
The Florida House Institute has grown exponentially since its start, arguably becoming the highest-performing “green” building in the county, if not the state. Its 15 kilowatts of solar panels not only helped contribute to a $0 energy bill, but last year, Florida Power and Light ended up paying the Florida House $100 for their extra energy contribution to the grid. Beyond the house, the entirety of the property exemplifies efficiency, sustainability, and smart growth.
Establishing a naturally wooded area to house local animals and pollinators, the Florida House has also created swales around the perimeter. These keep stormwater on the property to nourish the edible landscaping, while a variety of cisterns demonstrate how Sarasotans can utilize local rainfall. Considering how 690 gallons can be collected from one inch of rain on one square foot of roof, it doesn’t take as long as one might think to fill even the largest (3,500 gallon!) cistern at the Florida house, and it’s much healthier for the watershed.
Although capturing and reusing water was the first design paradigm for the property, leaders of the Florida House Institute soon realized that the challenges Sarasota was having with water were merely symptoms of bigger problems.
“We have an old economy dependent on fossil fuels,” says Florida House Director John Lambie, “and a new economy giving rise to renewable resources and sustainable solutions, and in the midst of this transition, things are a little chaotic.”
Lambie says that the hope for the Florida House is inspired Buckminster Fuller: to apply our know-how to the future we want, in order to make the world work the way we want it to. Part of that effort comes not merely from the hands-on learning one can receive from visiting the Florida House, but by using the space for other purposes as well.
While each visit grants the opportunity to learn more about the sustainability of cork flooring, low-flow toilets, state-of-the-art appliances, and PGT’s sound-attenuating, impact-resistant “Low-E” windows, the Florida House also serves as a venue for meetings and events. Comfortably hosting 60 people, the space is perfect for a charrette, film screening, or workshop, and with its new windows, you’re sure to be undisturbed by the traffic outside.
The third component of the Florida House’s new mission is to create a think tank that leverages local expertise for community engagement and vision-based planning to spur and support the new economy Lambie describes.
“Our capacity to live an enlightened life has come from the fossil fuel age,” Lambie says, “but we’re transitioning to renewable energy now. We think vision-based planning is a really powerful paradigm that says, ‘Hey, lets spend the last of the fossil fuel on installing the infrastructure for our grandkids that will let this place operate perpetually on renewable energy and renewable resources in an ecologically integrated economy.’”
We at Blink;Tech are thankful that the Florida House is here in Sarasota, guiding the way to a better tomorrow.
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