Luxury Home + Design
Joe and mary smallwood say they’re happy their construction choices might help save the planet, but it was family health and savings that spurred them to use green products in their home at Estuary at Grey Oaks.
That’s not the color green, they quip, nor products that don’t really deliver, but high-performance, energy-saving components from the wall make-up to the pool pump.
The outside of the sprawling, mission-style dwelling gives no hint of its eco-friendly character. The double-capped, barrel-tile roof and Syrian limestone entry make a gracious introduction to what promises to be a residence befitting the veteran homebuilder who lives there. The inside fulfills the promise. A 24-foot, beamed cathedral ceiling made of tongue-and-groove cypress crowns a great room grounded by hickory floors and accented by an arched wall of Syrian limestone.
Openness is a major personality trait of this 6,500-square-foot residence, completed in December. The kitchen and dining area are visible from the living room. The unscreened pool and lanai are on view from the great room and family room.
"Mary and I built this home for our family," says Joe, "to protect Zachary, who just turned five, and Brennan, our two-year-old, and to give all of us a healthy, relaxed environment—and that includes Mac, our yellow Lab."
A primary concern was humidity. "Aller-gens, dust mites, mold all have such a bad effect on health," Mary explains, "and humidity helps them thrive."
"The average home only gets dehumidified when the air conditioner is running," Joe continues, settling into a toffee-colored leather chair in the casual sector of the great room, "but there are times when there’s humidity in the air, but the temperature doesn’t require air conditioning. We approached the humidity problem in several ways, one of which was making the building as airtight as possible.
"The attic is sealed with sprayfoam," he says, "and we used what are called breathable, mass walls. These are insulated masonry walls that have the capacity to distribute the vapor resulting from moisture absorbed within them. Some builders try to seal a home as if it were an aquarium, caulking, painting and adding vapor barriers. This technique will eventually fail, as a hole or sealant failure will develop, trapping moisture in the wall that will cause damage to wall materials including rot, corrosion and mold. The mass wall is superior since we are not relying on caulk and sealant to allow the wall to perform. It keeps out the majority of the moisture through its design, and the breathability allows the moisture that gets in to escape as vapor, just like your skin."
A dehumidification and a fresh air system brings fresh air in and filters the air throughout the home.
The Smallwoods nixed wall-to-wall carpeting because of its dust-collecting characteristic and chose engineered, dark-toned hickory, a material produced by gluing layers of wood together. It’s stronger, they say, than planks. Before installation with low-emission glue, samples went to the University of Florida for analysis to ensure there was nothing harmful in its adhesive. Mary also reports that no particle board was used in the home.
As president/ceo of bcb Homes, Joe admits he had a head start regarding which products are potent energy savers and health aids. His clients demand them on a regular basis.
"The Trane air conditioner we chose has two compressors and can run at two-ton capacity or four-ton capacity," he says. "When light service is needed, we save energy and money by operating at the lower capacity."
The windows are clear, but they keep out heat and UV rays. "They let in as much daylight as conventional windows," Joe says, "but you can walk up to them when the sun is beating down, and they’re cool."
The Smallwoods, both longtime Naples residents, have a variable-speed electric pool pump that’s super-efficient, and they have an automatic pool cover, strong enough for a man to walk on, that slows evaporation and cooling. It’s a salt-water pool, with no chlorine necessary.
Mostly native plantings require less water, which they get from drip irrigation. "It’s not totally xeriscape," Mary concedes. "We had to have grass for the kids to play."
The whole-house, low-voltage lighting and cooling system can be commanded from the entry door. "We can shut off lights and turn things down by the touch of a button," Joe notes, "so we don’t waste energy while we’re out."
Conservation has a hefty payoff. The Smallwoods estimate, if they had built the house simply to Florida code, their electric bill would be about $9,500 per year. With the products they’ve installed, they’re expecting to pay around $5,200 and see a payback on materials cost within five to 10 years. That might allow them to more quickly fill the wine cellar, steadily air-cooled and able to store an extraordinarily large collection.
Large was a challenge in furnishing the new home, says the couple, who left a 2,000-square-foot home in The Moorings for its four bedrooms, five baths and two half baths.
"We worked with Lana Knapp at Collins & Dupont Interiors and chose furniture made in America, so foreign glues wouldn’t be an issue," says Mary, a former marketing executive. "We went with her to the Chicago Merchandise Mart for some furniture, chose other things at her company’s local site and shopped for some on our own. We wanted an eclectic theme so we could mix favorites we’ve collected with new pieces."
The Smallwoods say they like colorful art and prefer more neutral furniture. They divided their great room into casual and formal seating areas. The wood-burning fireplace is the focal point of the formal area, while the big-screen TV centers the casual space.
It’s a short stroll to the kitchen, where Joe cooks party meals. "We’ve got a commercial-grade gas range that’s approved for residential use," he says. "There are two dishwashers, and all the appliances are Energy Star rated."
The man of the house is also an ace at the pizza oven in the lanai’s summer kitchen. Out from his apron, he can work in the study he and Mary share in part of the master suite. An outdoor shower, sheltered by Bahama shutters, is off the master bath. The couple says they chose washable silk for their duvet so the boys can jump on it without worry. Both parents counter the effects of Joe’s cooking in the workout room that lies beyond the family room.
"The family room is where the boys spend a lot of their time," Mary says. "Lucky for me, my brother, Michael, is a professional artist. We adapted the wall art in the room from his work."
The walls of the guest room are brick red, and the boys’ bunk-bedded rooms are blue and green, with fish-themed decor in both. "We wanted plenty of room, and the lots in Estuary provide that," Joe notes. "The location is also great for us."
The Smallwoods have six garages to house cars, the boat and an ATV that contribute to family outdoor adventures.
The Florida Energy Star home has also been certified as a green home by the Florida Green Building Coalition and the National Association of Home Builders. The awards are truly gratifying, the Smallwoods say, but not as satisfying as knowing they’ve done their best to ensure their family’s health.