Cayo Costa State Park

It was an escape from the routine and hurried frenzy of daily life at home. Until we were loaded and away from the ferry dock on Pine Island, did I feel like I had started to leave busy-ness behind. We went for a weekend, but could have spent a whole season there, relaxing, recuperating, and re-creating ourselves.

Cayo Costa State Park is located on the north end of Cayo Costa Island (south of Boca Grande/Gasparilla); but, also includes the southern portion of North Sanibel Island. The camping grounds are located on the Gulf side of Cayo Costa – you can walk there from the boat dock, or you can wait for the Park Ranger to take you there by cart/bus (the park also maintains cabins on Pine Island). There are several trails accessible from the camping area. You need to bring in just about everything you’ll need for your stay – its a primitive camping experience – and, the ferry ride out makes it costly to go off island for supplies.

Cayo Costa is Old Florida … and it is beautiful. Enjoy the photos.

One leaves the marina at the northwest end of Pine Island, and heads west across Pine Island Sound. The ferry works its way to the hurricane hole between Cabbage Key and Cayo Costa itself coming up on the floating dock from the south. Consequently, the ferry passes along the bay-side of the park, where the mangroves, pine and oak scrub are still growing back from the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

Soldier Palms (dead cabbage palms near Boca Grande Pass).


More trees not recovered from the storm of 2004. Still stately and majestic; and, still every bit as important to the island’s ecology and wildlife. Walking the island trails and beaches was wonderful. There is much to see and hear. Birds, bees, the wind. It was good to be away from the noise of the city and the drummer’s pace of getting on with each day. We were able to really let go and unwind – old style.

The tent sites were very exposed – we knew that going into the trip, and elected to reserve a cabin. There was little shade available in the tent sites simply because the native flora was still growing back. The cabins had a nice cross ventilation and a large shaded porch, but, still as evening drew on, the sun made it very hot to be out – we sought shade or the waters of the Gulf of Mexico whenever heat was an issue. (If you plan to use the cabins, bring extra sheets to cover the windows for some privacy).

I will be the first say that our neighbors were very loud, but most welcome. The osprey nest was about 100 feet east of the cabin. The young were incessantly squeaking for attention, and the adults calling to each other throughout the day. That the local crows kept buzzing the nest did not quiet the ospreys. It was a real privilege to see them up close like that.


The beach has been accorded top status by the Beach Doctor in years past. It is no less a beauty today. The island’s inaccessibility means the beach is not busy – so it is a wonderful place to just go and relax – almost deserted at times … a few miles of Florida paradise for the walking. You can see over the dunes from some of the cabins and several of the tent sites, but you really have to push through the edge of the palms and shrubs to reach the beach.


Of course, there is no visit to a west coast Florida beach that can be considered complete without a sunset.

Most unusual critter spotted during our stay – a nudibranch:

I am certain this critter would look much more spectacular if I had an underwater camera and extra lighting. But it was still really cool to find one swimming along at the shoreline.

On one walk we came across an extensive stand of Gopher Apple. We were envious – we have been nurturing our little clump of apples for six years now, and they cover a very small area of our yard. Here they were ubiquitous.

We found these curious looking plants in the dunes – no-one knew their name. There were some bigger examples of the shrub scattered throughout the dune line, gulf-side. We didn’t see any inland of the dune ridge.

Scaevola plumieri – Inkberry or beachberry. Again, a pretty plant (in this case can be very tall), one that we found only along the dune facing the Gulf of Mexico.

I really enjoyed just getting out and about. I walked to the south end of the park (without my camera, sorry), and was thrilled at every step. Shells of all kinds and shapes. Dead things washed ashore: a shrivelled porpoise carcas, and a dead Green Sea Turtle. Wave forms in the sand, always changing. A rookery for lesser terns. A fresh cut through the beach, feeding time and tide to the interior lagoon. A huge aligator – thankfully on the other side of the lagoon. Just a world of wonder. Many shapes and textures. Splendor with every step.

Modern fire fighting equipment and high tech water supplies kept us content and safe (chuckles).

Tasty bacon! (Thanks Deb!!!!!!). Savory Snacks (A world without salt & vinegar chips is a bland one!!!!!). And some things better off not eaten (we survived the canned peaches!!!!!).

Our trip was worth the cost of driving and parking and getting the ferry to the island. I would like to have found a less expensive place to leave my my vehicle – the marina charges $10/day to park; and, that adds up quickly, detracting from the overall experience of staying on the island. If you can – go. Bring a means of charging your camera (if its digital) and stay as long as you can afford. It was fabulous. We’ll do it again.

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What is Green Design?

In response to Miguel Verissimo’s query to the “Green Design” on-line group.

Miguel, you asked originally what "Green Design" means to ‘us’, in light of three observations concerning the design (and build) community of professionals: (1) the key concept of ecology has been forgotten; (2) scale has become unimportant, and (3) technology has supplanted simplicity in materials and methods. Forgive me if my paraphrasing has taken you out of context.

Any time I see "ecology" in a statement, I immediately refer to Odum before proceeding. Eugene Odum – the father of modern ecology – was keenly interested in the inter-connectedness of things and place his whole life; it was the focus of his research, and was the passion he passed on to his students and disciples. He was a man who saw simplicity where others saw complexity, he was disinterested in ‘splash’ and pro-active in his personal life (not the lives of others) – he was not an environmentalist. If things changed, they changed first in his own life and ‘place’, and his example led to changes in those around him, or touched by him.

Green design, like Odum’s life, begins in-situ, with our own personal inter-connections and place. Change there, leads, inevitably to change elsewhere. When designing (and implementing design) we are changing with purpose, and not merely responding to our place.

Odum’s "web-of-life" idea, was put into practice through his definition of "eco-system." An eco-system is a dynamic (that is four-dimensional) space with arbitrarily defined boundaries – ecology is the study of the inter-connections within that space (how its parts inter-act and react to each other, the pathways of energy flow, etc.) and between adjacent spaces. We often think of ecology in concrete terms: predator-prey-food-structure. But, it is a conceptual tool for analysis, a means to answering questions.

I believe "Green Design" (when it is not purposed to confuse consumers with intentional or unintentional deceit) is at its heart: ecological. It considers the place, the inter-connectedness of its parts, and the relationship of that place with adjacent spaces, objects, processes, etc. (not just physically adjacent, but through social and bio-physical pathways).

Building Science or Energy Efficient Design are very narrow applications of Green Design. When I consider the different standards and designations systems out-there, they all have in common, not just the purposed intent of a structure, its energy use, occupant health, but they also consider the structures place in its community, and how use of that structure will impact the community (its people, wildlife, rivers, bays, etc.).

There is a marketing/consumer backlash against the use of the word "green" to designate an environmentally friendly building, community or product. Its born out of its misuse and out of misunderstanding. It doesn’t change what designing green is: a systems approach to design that consider place as important.

I had always thought the role of architect or designer implied that "place" was as important as function or form. After all, we live in modified places – nowhere we live is un-designed, or unmodified to meet our purposes. It is just that some designed spaces encompass a larger boundary of consideration than others.

I don’t believe ‘ecology’ has been lost from Green Design – it is missing from green washing (but so is morality and ethics).

Design is acutely aware of scale and scale impacts, whether we are considering a unique thing, or the production of something. You cannot necessarily fault a designer for the scale of a project. The scale impacts of the project are going to be part of the design – its the definition of the space that may lead to unconsidered problems after a project is completed. It is defining the design space that dictates to what degree a project’s scale can be accommodated. Neglecting to properly define the system boundary will lead to system failures.

Sometimes we are constrained by ignorance, sometimes by resources, other times by our clients … still we may be short-sighted by our own desire, greed, political correctness or ethical/political spinelessness … so boundaries can be improperly defined, and problems – sometimes monumental disasters – can occur. Buildings fail, communities get polluted, sprawl and congestion plague the places we live and work.

Scale is a part of green design – it is that arbitrary boundary of analysis. It is a political boundary for large projects. The larger the scale of the project, the greater the financial and political interest … the more complex the social constraints become.

Ecology has taught us that simple systems are robust systems. Complex systems are more rigid. When we design complex engineered systems, we create numerous pathways of response. But as we increase the number and complexity of these pathways (inter-connections) we decrease the part’s scope of response. The ability of the system to fail safely is compromised. Natural systems never fail, they only change. We build and modify, and by doing so, introduce complexity to a system. We also design with little or no intention to change – quite the opposite. Look to your local planning department, and tell me the rules and politics of development of any kind don’t meet resistance at every level. We design for rigidity – "to stand the test of time." Eco-systems are dynamic, simple and fluid if they are to be robust.

When we consider durability in design, we are actually thinking in opposition to eco-systems. I don’t have a problem with this. Its part of being human. And Odum stated that problem analysis within ecology was to seek out a harmonious relationship with nature – we are after all, creative destroyers of our environment, not merely reactive participants. I believe in this respect, Green Design needs to look at the extent of the design boundary, and how the project will affect the robustness of the place and its adjacencies when we consider the scale of a project, or the complexity of the structure/design.

There is a sexiness to high-tech that we have a natural affinity for. Sometimes the high-tech solution is the way to go. Maybe not in other cases. High-tech materials tend to be complex assemblies. They are rigid from a systems point-of-view, and do not always contribute to a space (or an adjacent place) in the way we want (a material may be inert at my home, but its production hazardous and risky). The simple solution to a problem is often the most graceful. Science, says it will most probably be the most dynamic and robust solution.

I am not advocating that we start living in tikihuts and sod houses … but, green design, implemented with reduced-impact and community harmony as its principle goals, is the place to start any project.

[Added 5/16/2009]

Ecology is a field of scientific endeavor – an eco-system is a concept. "Ecological thinking" would be the application the scientific understanding of ecology to a particular problem – in the case of this discussion, to the design of some object (say, a lounge chair), or structure (be it a house or an office tower), or a planned community, we would bring an understanding of meta-systems model building to test-out and untimately build a structure that meets pre-determined goals. Ecology, as a science, DOES NOT consider the human animal as an political-economic agent … and so thinking purely ecologically will lead to design failure.

Conservation Biology (a kind-of applied ecology) often tries to bring human agency into its planned programs; but, often fails to go far enough because of the political dynamics between professioal groups and their model paradigms – its that human agency thing that gums up the works.

You must go beyond ecology, if you are design in a social construct. Just as you must go beyond engineering or sociology or economics or politics if you are to design for people in an environmental construct.

You can attempt to model all the layers of systems you want but the model will only grow in analytical complexity. Setting model/analytical boundaries becomes imperative, else the model become so complex and cumbersome that its outcomes become meaningless. Consequently, we move beyond ecology/economics and on to heuristics for design, and the means of testing a design to some standard or goal (so that we call something green and distinguish it from other objects, structures or plans). So we tend toward rules (presumably informed by systems science and other applied investigations) to guide the design process – all those different calculators and "green" standards are little more than heuristic guides for design.

There is harmony in this process (although there may not be much harmony in the making of the rules). Artistic/aesthetic concept become a part of the design challenge, whether we are addicted to energy or not (sidenote – its not energy addiction, its market externalities that under-price the use of a kJ).

Nature does not tell us that individuality is important, quite the contrary – that is an anthropomorphism, and is a dangerous road to travel in understanding nature in all its brutal beauty.

Each actor in the design process is a specialist by trade and necessity – we can’t know everything. So, large scale projects rely on some means of assembling that knowledge in a team (charettes, round-tables, etc.): the team approach overcomes the ignorance of individuals (although it introduces its own dynamics as a management system).

Equilibrium is an unatural and unstable state. Plan for change.

The miracle of "green design" (or "any" design for that matter) isn’t that something energy efficient or carbon neutral is built, it’s that something wonderful can be made real in-spite-of the limitations we place on ourselves. I think, Miguel, this is your civilizing artistic/aesthetic endeavor, whether created by a trained architect or borne of the vernacular efforts of craftsmen and citizens alike.

The systems approach to design-build necessesitates that the means (the methodology of design and of construction) complement the ends (the purposed object, structure or community). To violate that complemtarity, violates the system (those inter-connections in the boundary of analysis or implementation) and leads to failure: a chair that cannot support the weight of its occupant because the designer or manufacturer took a short-cut, ignored an assumption, or substituted an inferior material – the same applies to a house, a bridge or a community.

In that respect, your exhortation to "self-responsability" is the moral imperative of the designer and builder to act ethically and with integrity. "Integrity" – I use that with all its force of thought here, since moral character is transferred from the design team to the structure itself.

Click here for the original discussion.

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Energy Efficiency – Myth Busting

I recently came across a new/old article concerning the common myths about energy efficient building construction, renovating for energy efficiency and home maintenance for energy efficiency. The article was written by Martin Holladay (Editor, Energy Design Update) and appeared in the Journal of Light Construction in June 2008. I found it in the on-line archives of Remodeling Magazine.

The article touches the scientific surface of several construction/remodel upgrades builders and homeowners are encouraged to do by writers in the print/on-line media (including the professional media), and through the marketing efforts of product manufacturers. Holladay debunks the myth and promotes the scientific application of a method or means of increasing the energy efficiency of a home/structure. While the article focuses on “northern” building climates, there is much here for those of us in Florida coping with the peculiarities of a hot-humid storm dominated building environment.

Goto “A Close Look at Common Energy Claims by Martin Holladay.

My Comments:

(1) Window Replacement – as Holladay points out, window replacement is often advertised as the way to beat the energy-bill. Given the current costs of high-performance windows (limited availability), there is rarely a pay-off here for the homeowner. Most advertised energy-efficient windows do not qualify for the 2009 tax credits, and the tax mechanism of tax savings is too often misrepresented. Additionally, high-performance windows (low-e, low U-factor) when retrofitted to an existing structure will lead to long-term health risks to the occupants (when other functioning elements of the home are not upgraded at the same time). The original home design (especially the mechanical, or HVAC, design) did not include such radical changes to the building envelope – the home was originally designed to “breathe” differently. There are greater benefits and cost recovery time-lines from radically upgrading a home’s HVAC than changing out its windows. Additionally, windows must be installed properly or their touted efficiencies will not be realized (poorly installed, they will lead to efficiency losses instead of gains), and other health and safety risks will be introduced to the home environment.

(2) Housewrap – when installed improperly housewrap can turn a home into a moisture/mold trap. If you are installing this yourself DIY, or have hired a contractor/subcontractor to install housewrap for you, make certain they are following the manufacturer’s recommended procedures and fastening schedule for that particular product. Housewrap is an awesome drainage plane, often installed behind stucco and in-front of plywood/OSB sheathing on exterior walls. However, such wraps must allow the structure to breathe (In hot-humid climates do not install wall-wraps that are vapor-barriers), or they will keep interior moisture from exiting the walls. They must also be installed so that moisture which penetrates the stucco or siding drains apart from the wall sheathing and away from the house.

(3) Vapor-retarders – Always let your interior walls “breathe”. Period. Make your ceiling as air-tight as possible (if your insulation is on your ceiling and your attic is vented). Period. Seal your slab. Period. The best way to allow moisture to leave the building is not to let it in, in the first place. Knowing that, whenever possible, exhaust your kitchen range to the outside (too often this option is not elected, and the range hood merely blows hot humid air and cooking pollutants back into the house). Bathroom exhaust fans should have timers or humidity sensors on them, and they should vent through the roof, or clear of the fascia. Too often, folks retrofit a bathroom fan by (a) running the hose into their attic – a very bad idea; (b) laying the hose on their soffit – this is the air intake of a vented attic (what are people thinking?); or (c ) add a through soffit exhaust (but, again, the dynamics of air movement just sucks the bath exhaust into the attic, unless the attic is unvented and sealed). If you’re not going to install a bathroom fan properly, don’t put one in, and just open the window when your bathing.

(4) In-floor radiant heat – most slab floors in Florida are un-insulated, and, in fact, act as a thermal mass for heating/cooling purposes. If you are going to heat your floors in this manner for the few weeks in a year you need heating, unless your heat source is relatively free (i.e., solar or geo-thermal) your money is better spent on other means of heating/cooling. However, if you are temperature sensitive (and there are medical conditions which make a cold floor extremely uncomfortable and painful to be in contact with), radiant floor heating is a great means of making your home comfortable. But, try insulating it first.

(5) The advice offered here is applicable to colder climates and places with basements. However, leaks are best dealt with by sealing with foam (if you can). Exterior places on a home where materials change, or walls change angles, will need to have their caulking maintained. Environmental conditions will lead to a deterioration of the caulking at window frames, soffits and flashed points where roofs and walls meet. As the caulk fails, hot humid air will leak into the house (when your AC is not running) and cold air will leak out (when the AC is running). Rain will be driven into these spaces as the cracks increase in size (due to lack of maintenance). You would be surprised to learn just how much water can enter a house through the many point penetrations and small cracks that are often left unrepaired by busy homeowners. Storm winds drive water great distances. So walk your homes, and repair these cracks as you find them.

(6) Energy ratings – Buyer beware. Know what you are buying. The best way to determine the energy efficiency of your home is to have an audit or test performed by a certified energy rater (the Florida Solar Energy Center maintains a database of certified raters in the state of Florida). Sometimes these audits and tests can be performed free through your power utility. Enquire about their programs to find out what is available to you.

(7) Foams – there are many different foams available (bio-foams, petroleum foams, closed foams, open foams, fire foams, etc …). They are designed for specific purposes and applied in a certain way to meet performance specifications. If you don’t know which foam to use (or use foam at all) for a specific application, ask a trusted expert.

(8) R-values. I can only echo agreement here – R-values are useless if the product is installed poorly, or installed in a poorly built assembly, or used in the wrong application.

(9) Remember: “Its the energy, Stupid” Joseph Lstiburek, P.Eng.

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Green Buildings – What are they?

In the past few years green building or green construction has become a much examined topic, rejected (in practicality) by many, embraced (in action) by few (most everyone talks “green”, fewer do it). It carries an unnecessary association with “elitism” (but, I can’t claim that this is undeserved, as too many in the business promote an elitist view of green building). Its a media buzz-word, and a rallying cry for reform. It is often promoted by energy efficiency zealots, and back-to-natural proponents as the only way to go – but, few actually adopt green methods and materials as part of the way they build or conduct business.

As Kermit says, “Its not easy being green.”

What is Green Building? And When is a Building “Green”?

A review of what people are saying about their green products, homes and structures will leave you believing that there are many shades and hues of green. I purpose here to claim that there is but a single shade of green, and a business, home or structure is either green or not, striving to be green, or not striving at all.

So what is a “green” building? Lets look at some common definitions of “green building”:

  • Green building enhances the natural and human environment
  • Green building is sustainable development
  • Green building uses existing materials in efficient ways
  • Green building is low-energy resource-efficient construction

All construction of any kind is an enhancement (for better or worse depending on your point of view) of its surroundings. Sustainable development is change that does not knowingly impair viable future development – the future value of choices are incorporated into any economic transaction, and building anything is a complex economic transaction. Economic necessity forces builders to use materials (including energy) in efficient ways. All of these broad generalizations do little but direct the effort of design and construction. They do not make a structure “green.” They each lack a base-line for comparison and measurement. Existing definitions quickly expand on these conceptual goals to lay-out some specific criteria for environmental responsibility [hence green construction is, by this admission, an ethical/moral standard of construction, and necessarily an engineering standard], materials and energy efficiency. Principal among definitions are two core themes: (1) energy-efficiency; and, (2) applied “building science” (also called “whole-house design”).

Energy-efficient building construction remains at the core of green building design – since 40% of energy consumption in the US is from heating and cooling structures, it will remain the institutional focus of green construction for many years. Marginal gains in building energy efficiency do have profound long-term impacts on overall energy use and prices in the US. Many of the smart ideas for building green have their origins in the research and development of energy efficient materials and methods of construction. The largest financial payoff to the building owner will come from the energy saving features that are incorporated into the design of a structure. It remains the easiest selling point for building in a green way; but, alone, it will not render a home “green.” Taken to its extreme, energy-efficient construction can lead to a very tight low-energy home, but one that will leave its occupants sick (and that’s not the sort-of green we’re looking for)… as a consequence green construction has come to embrace the concept of building science in order that the various parts of a house can be examined for their integrated impact, not just on energy efficiency, but on many other facets of home construction.

Building science is an approach to construction that considers the totality of the structure, its purpose and its place in the environment. Building science is an application of scientific knowledge focusing on the analysis and control of the physical phenomena affecting buildings; it includes the detailed analysis of building materials and envelope systems. The practical purpose of building science is to provide predictive capability to optimize building performance and understand or prevent building failures. Building failure does not just occur when a structure falls down [although we can learn a lot when it does!]. A building fails when its components break due to stress or fatigue (a structural failure), or, more commonly, when one or more of its purposed performance goals are not being met (i.e., its too hot, or too cold, or too drafty, or too expensive to maintain, etc.). [A great place to enquire about the practical application of building science is: – a private research firm with a public agenda.]

Energy efficiency is concerned with the thermal properties of the building envelope, and the energy used by the building’s appliances and fixtures. The only performance criteria is active-energy consumption. Building science goes beyond that by considering building performance in several specific categories: component durability; moisture management; energy efficiency; indoor air quality (IAQ); structural performance; and, thermal comfort. Using building science as a tool, one can analyze how various building components and assemblages interact and affect a building’s overall performance, as well as individual performance categories. For example, which side and pane of glass a low-e film is applied to does more than affect the heat load of a room or house, it will affect IAQ as the mechanical system responds to heat and humidity at different times of the day or season; that, in turn affects how well comfort levels are maintained in any part of the house, including the home’s ability to absorb or rid itself of airborne moisture or other contaminants. In other words, all the parts are related, a change in one component can have a large impact in many areas of a home’s design, not just the component’s designed purpose.

Building science applies itself to the structure (the environment inside the building envelope), and only considers the outside environment as uncontrolled phenomena applied to the structure – it has little to say about the built environment in which the structure is situated, or the impact building the structure (and altering the site) will have on the site itself and the community it is in. Building science is an engineering approach – performance goals are legal parameters (set by outside agencies) for structural integrity, materials composition and environmental quality. Building science arrives at the most efficient construction response that meets these pre-set parameters.

Applying the principles of building science to the design and construction of a home will result in a sound, comfortable and safe structure. It doesn’t mean that the methods of construction will be green, or that the end result will be a green home. Green building and green building standards look beyond the building envelopment, and gauge the impact of the building on its surroundings, and the impact its surroundings will have on the occupants of the building.

Following from building science as a multi-faceted and performance based, green building, and, by extension, green standards, are multi-faceted and performance based. An overall designation for the home is arrived at based on the performance of the structure as built (not just designed) in several categories.


NAHB National Green Building Standard

FGBC Green Home Designation Standard

USGBC LEED for Homes


Lot Design & Development
Resource Efficiency
Energy Efficiency
Indoor Environmental Quality
Operations & Maintenance

Energy Conservation
Water Conservation
Lot Choice/Amenities
Site Condition/Disturbance
Occupant Health
Materials Conservation
Disaster Mitigation



Points are awarded based the degree to which materials and technologies are employed to achieve the objectives of a performance category. Minimums and prerequisites exist in the various categories – these ‘dictums’ are the collective judgment of standard’s owner on what constitutes ‘green’. Each standard treats the failure meet minimums differently, preferring to use the point system as an incentive structure to adopt increasingly better integrated performance across categories and overall for the house. Meet the minimums in each category, and the minimum overall performance goal for the standard, and home is declared green. Each standard presently, has overall performance tiers or ranks depending on the degree to which a structure exceeds the minimum overall performance level.

Homes/structures are designed and built to meet or exceed acknowledged (and/or binding) structural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, fire and accessibility standards – because they are binding legal requirements for construction these standards are more properly referred to as building codes. Before a project is considered finished and the structure occupied for its built purpose, designs are reviewed, materials and methods of construction or installation inspected, and the structure verified as complying with its applicable code(s). This inspection and verification is not performed by the architect, nor the builder, nor the homeowner – it is performed by a third-party (usually a local government official or proxy) with no financial interest in the construction of the building.

A certified green structure will have gone through the same process: design, procurement and construction will have been reviewed and inspected against an accepted standard by a disinterested third-party verifier. A structure is “green” not because of its design, or means of procurement, or method of construction. A structure is not “green” because the builder, or realtor, or homeowner says it is. In the same manner that a structure is declared code compliant, a structure is green because it has been declared so by a recognized third-party authority who has verified that the design, materials and means of construction meet specific and accepted criteria for the built environment in which people will abide, work and recreate.

Building codes are accepted and enforced standards of construction. They are, arguably, economically justifiable regulatory interventions in an otherwise voluntary contractual relationship between a builder/designer and a homeowner (ostensibly protecting the principal parties, as well as those parties external to the contract but affected by its execution – e.g., public and private utilities, insurance companies, financial institutions, etc.). The codes are mandated and enforceable. The codes are arrived at through a technically and economically informed, democratic process overseen by publically accountable corporate bodies.There are several published guidelines and standards that fall within the category of “green building.” In the state of Florida there are only three standards that apply to residential home construction which are subject to independent third-party verification.

Green building standards differ radically from regulatory building and development codes. Chief among these differences are:

(1) Green standards are the property of private corporations (albeit not-for-profit entities). The USGBC oversees LEED. The NAHB owns and administers the National Green Building Standard (NGBS). The FGBC controls the various Florida Green Designation Standards.

(2) The standards are voluntary. There is no binding law compelling anyone to build green structures, or to build green. There is no penalty for failing to build green (other than a failure to be certified).

(3) Performance goals are multi-faceted, they do not represent prescriptive engineering minimums. There is a caveat here: all green structures go beyond code minimums (all structures must meet the legal minimums, hence better is good, and good is the goal). All standards contain elements of prerequisite qualities, but there is no set prescriptive means of meeting that prerequisite.

(4) All standards are arrived at through an informed, transparent process. They are not necessarily accountable to the general public, but the process is accountable internally to the organization’s membership. (In the case of the NGBS, the principle entity relied on an independent body to formulate the standard – the ICC published the standard formulated using the ANSI process).

(5) Authority and credibility is obtained through market respect and recognition, and the participation of its membership/clientele. Any one standard’s success depends on its marketing success (internally to its members, and externally through homebuyer demand).


Building green and a Green building are not necessarily the same things.

A green building is not necessarily the consequence of building green; but you have to construct in a green way to build a green structure.

A green building is declared so by an independent third-party after it has been verified against a defined and recognized standard.

There is no greener shade of green, than green; anything else is marketing.

Green building standards are, by admission, ethical/moral judgments concerning what are good/better building practices and good/better built-environment performance goals.

Building green is a response to economic/market forces that is influenced by the ethical/moral character of the builder/contractor. Likewise, the homeowner demand for green buildings is a response to moral imperatives that is influenced by household economics.

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Passiflora edulis – Passion Fruit Vine

On our road to self-sufficiency we acquired a few tropical fruit plants at the 2007 rare plant sale in Palmetto (see Manatee Rare Fruit Council for the news concerning their annual sale). Among them was a passion fruit vine – a fruit I had come to adore after a visit to Hawaii many years ago, but which is not easily obtained here in Florida. Of our fruiting trees and plants in the garden, the Passiflora edulis is my favorite. It took all of 2008 to root, so we did not see any fruit, and only a few paltry flowers last year. However, this year, the vine has truly taken off. It has climbed the full height of the fence (6’) and started trailing linearly along it. Our neighbor is also excited about the prospects of getting fruit from his side.

It truly is the most exotic of the plants we have planted in our landscape; the flower itself is a marvel of natural beauty: delicate, colorful, multi-textured – a delicious treat of eye-candy. We currently have three fruit ripening and expect to have many more this year.

Growing up, it was a treat to have POG, in season. My mother would get it at the local grocer in cartons – never in large quantities and never on sale, it was always a treat. I grew up thinking it came from a pog tree – silly me. It was not until 1988 that I had my first taste of freshly prepared passion fruit juice while staying at the H. Monango Hotel in Captain Cook. That I would wait 20 years to experience that again is sort-of sad, really.

The almost hard-frosts of this winter had us worried that the passion fruit vine would suffer badly; however, it was hardly affected by the cold weather at all – unlike our tomatoes which took a beating. The recent drought did not affect its growth, either. We had installed a micro-irrigation head at the foot of the vine, delivering 1 gal/day to the plant when we first put it in the ground. However, our Cairn terrier had taken a liking to the black plastic uprights of the micro-sprinklers, and before long, the plant was on its own. Our area of Florida has not received its usual share of rain. Despite this neglect it has rooted and thrived. We hope it will continue to grow along the fence as a trellised vine, getting itself well established by the time the new live oak starts to mature and leave the vine in partial shade.

Since the passion fruit vine is doing so well, I am wondering if I can grow purple mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) here, and if there are dwarf varieties. I can buy the fruit at the local Publix when its in season, but they ship it in from SE Asia, and that makes for a pricey piece of fruit.

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Backyard Beekeeping – Conservo Mellis Urbanus

Our foray into urban beekeeping has begun in full earnest with the arrival, swap and inspection of our Carniolan hives. We do like our girls.

The excitement began in December (2008) when we learned that we were allowed to keep bees within the city limits. Contacts were made (Kurt Rowe & Bethany Ford), and by February we had ordered our first hive bodies, beekeeper tools, and attended our local beekeepers association monthly bee. We were ready – the honey hutch was underway, the “bee-pad” was set, the garden was ready – all we needed were the bees. We located some ready nucs at Indian Summer Honey Farm and arrangements were made to pick up our girls on our trip back from UF Bee College 2009 [my comments on the Bee College can be found elsewhere in this space].

The nucs contained our Carniolans x Italians. We loaded them snuggly in the truck bed, then headed south for the trip home. We could tell they were getting warm, as the boxes vibrated with the rhythm of thousands of bee beating their wings to ventilate the hive. When we got home, we did not immediately transfer them to their hives, but rather placed them where the hives would go, and opened them up to forage and get water. We transferred the hives the following day.

We had already planned a pond near the hive location, and filled it in anticipation of the arrival of our bees. They were very thirsty little bugs – lighting on the oak litter floating in the pond to get a drink. We did note, however, that despite our best efforts to have a visually appealing pond for us and a great place for the bees to drink (without raiding our neighbors’ pools), our bees preferred to get their extra water from the overflow holes of the grow pots in our garden. They can be found sipping religiously as the micro-irrigation comes on, twice a day.

Work has since progressed: the nucs were replaced by new hive bodies and shallow supers. We have spread shell around the base of the “bee-pad” to help deal with the vegetation. The honey hutch has a foundation and stud walls, and the pond has plants. On the advice found in Beekeeping for Dummies and from other beekeepers, we added a “spring” for the bees to light on and drink – it’ll probably attract butterflies later in the spring as well. The spring needed a pump, the upside to which is a means of controlling mosquitoes(Gambuzia will be added when the county has some available for pick-up). At the center of the pond are water lilies. I have not yet seen the honeybees light on the lily pads, but there are carpenter bees in the area that really like the lily’s flowers – just haven’t had the camera handy to catch one feeding (they really stand out against the yellow and white of the lily).

A current view of the hives, looking across the pond –


We left the girls alone for two weeks to make their new home’s their own. We did not open the hives until it was time for our bee inspection – which went smoothly: Hats off to Todd Jameson for being such a great person to deal with.


Todd treated our bees with great care – even when he took his sample. We’ll know in a few weeks whether we have caught any of that Africanized genetics that’s flying around – hopefully not.

During the inspection we noted a few things: (1) in hive #2 the bees had already started drawing out two of the new frames that were added when the nucs were transferred (while there were bees in the shallow supers above the excluder, none of that foundation had been drawn out); (3) there was lots of eggs laid, capped brood, pollen and honey in the deep; (4) we have small hive beetles (not too many, yet – we have observed several small hive beetles flying about in the last few days – see our Bees and Beetles blog entry); and, (5) the queen in hive #1 had most of her green ink “chewed” off, revealing a red ink beneath – so she’s older than we thought. This hive (#1) had a supersedure cell in it. It has been suggested to us that we let nature take its course and have the girls decide whether or not to keep the new queen or the old one. [Look for an update on that issue in a few weeks as we look in on that hive to see how its doing, re-queen, etc.]

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I do so enjoy foggy moments. Not the cerebral kind, but the thick inky times at dawn or dusk, or under a bright moon. Times when the world slows down and imagination fills in the murky distance with our greatest hopes and fears. We feel a foggy morning. Drink in the air, for it is thick; search out the night, for it is quiet and heavy. All the world waits — rests — until a fog lifts. Presently, I drive to the urban edge daily, and work near the old bahia fields. Last harvested years ago, they remain unkept and grazed by small forgotton groups cattle. The fields are crisp and brown from the winter draught. The brown sea of grass is broken only by the great oaks and tall pines the line the wet runs of intermittant creeks and strands. All are sleeping until the wet and warm of Spring returns.
At night, I drive a winding suburban road. The neighborhood homes are well back from the road and hidden behind an expanse of original woodland. Pines and live oaks, draped with Spanish Moss, disguise the truth, and leave one in the imagined world of the unspoiled oak hammocks and pine barrens that once spread far and wide. Alone, I follow the trail, not a sole but my shadow accompany me. Street lights standing astride the asphalt cast a conal shadow of light. Headlamps only obscure the onrushing distance, so again I slow down, and drink in the cloistered beauty of the cloaked urban forest. Rid of the walls of cat briar, ivy and vines of the wild, it is a picture postcard of the imaginary frontier made real.
I enjoy the mists and fogs that come with the winters of south Florida. They burn off to reveal the glorious warmth of a sub-tropical sun. They retreat and let the world truly wake. I do not recall looking forward to the inpenetrable fog of my hometown: a place where it would roll in off the Pacific and linger for days, at times so thick that the sun would be a dull disk in the sky. I do enjoy the heightened beauty of the misty dawns over the wet prairies of Manatee County. The whole world is afire in the glow of a brilliant amber sun. Even the cloistered nights are free of the sinister cloaca of an unyielding fog.
Soon, the sleepy fields of the rural fringe will sprout homes — the children that live there will not know the peace of a still rural morning. Instead they will have the joy of their present company. Certainly, the fog will return, as it always does, rolling out of the marshes of the Manatee, and bringing with it a unique urban stillness. Where there were once shadows beneath the great arms of ancient oaks and the black silhouettes of scrub pine rising out of the grey folds of a misty quilt, there will be bodiless voices in the distance, the hissing of tires on wet pavement by cars unseen, and the glow of street lamps alight long after dawn. A diiferent beauty framed by the same mists drifting out of a new dawn.
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