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Color of construction is green

He recycles the past to make his home environmentally sound for future.

Published May 26, 2007



On a quiet avenue between Fourth Street N and Tampa Bay, construction history is being made.

"We're changing the color of construction, " says Darren Brinkley, 36. He's building what he believes will be the first home in St. Petersburg to be certified "green" by the Florida Green Building Coalition. The coalition recently certified St. Petersburg as the first "green" city in Florida.

The house will have some familiar energy- and water-saving features: a solar water heater, compact fluorescent lights, Energy Star appliances, low-flow plumbing fixtures, tubular skylights, Florida-friendly, drought-tolerant landscaping.

But some of its components are less familiar. The second and third floors and the roof are constructed from Structural Insulated Panels, sandwiches of foam sided with wood that Brinkley says are "60 to 70 percent more efficient than stick-and-batt construction and insulation." Brink-ley also plans an instant hot water system and a geothermal cooling system.

The home is scheduled for completion in late July, just four months after Brinkley started. That's about half the time it typically takes a builder to construct a conventional home in a subdivision.

Above, and beyond

It's the design that attracts residents in the Riviera Bay area as they walk their dogs and get in their morning jogs.

Rather than tear down the one-story concrete block home that stood on the site, Brinkley has incorporated it into his new home. The original - a 1970s relic of 744 square feet plus carport and screened porch - will become the new garage. The new home - four bedrooms and three baths in 2, 000 air-conditioned square feet - will hover a few inches above the old, resting on treated pillars that stand beside the original home.

"It would be crazy to knock it down only to rebuild, " Brinkley said, explaining why he incorporated the old into the new. He's doing all the work himself, with assistance from his dad, Tony, and from Taylor Ralph, an employee in R.E.A.L. building, Brinkley's fledgling business. He'll have electricians and plumbers do the work that must be done by licensed contractors, he said.

The name stands for Responsible, Efficient, Attainable and Livable. It will be both a building and a consulting company to educate buyers and builders in green construction and help buyers build energy-efficient homes.

"The driving factor at the start is getting people educated on how to build green, " Brinkley said. "We're not doing anything crazy, anything that people would say, 'We can't do that.' We're showing what's attainable, " with building materials that are readily available, proven and user-friendly.

This may be the right time. A survey by Green Builder Media showed that buyers are willing to spend 11 to 25 percent more for green-built homes. The average green homebuyer is between 35 and 50 years old with a college degree and a fair understanding of green products.

Green Builder Media says "green building" refers to construction practices that "improve the energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, resource management, durability, and general environmental appropriateness of a structure." Ninety-six percent of the 250 home builders surveyed said they intend to incorporate green materials and processes into their business this year. Just 51 percent do so now.

Nothing to waste

Brinkley's efficiency concern extends to reusing and recycling components removed from the original building. Near a sign that says, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, " Brinkley pointed to a pile of old wood trusses. They'll find a new life as landscaping edges, planter boxes and benches. The doors, cabinets and appliances from the old house have already gone to Habitat for Humanity for resale. Metal will be recycled. "We'd like to send as little to the landfill as possible, " he said.

"I haven't seen a total green design like this, which is exciting, " said Rick Dunn, a building official with the city of St. Petersburg. Not many green plans come across his desk, he said - a few for solar panels that will produce electricity, not just hot water - but the city has created an internal policy to streamline approvals for those projects, and there are rebates on fees to create an incentive for builders and homeowners.

Ahead of the codes

Brinkley wants to install a gray-water system that would route used water from sinks, showers and the washing machine to flush toilets. State and city building codes don't allow that for single-family homes, Dunn said, but "we'd love to see it. You'd think in a state with the water problems we have, someone would be all over it, but we're not there yet."

He added, "We'd love to see some more creative design to help people comply with the green building concept."

Brinkley also plans to install an instant hot water system that pushes the cold water in the pipes out of the way when a faucet is turned on, so homeowners aren't letting the water run and run while they wait for it to get hot.

A geothermal heat pump will use the Earth as a source of cooling or heating to operate the air conditioning.

Brinkley is a former graphic designer from London who moved to Florida after he married Tampa native Amber Overby, 31. While he was waiting to get his green card, he remodeled their home on 25th Avenue N in St. Petersburg. "That's what inspired me. I realized, I want to build houses. I don't want to sit in an office."

Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or


Building green

- The Florida Green Building Coalition is a group of builders, suppliers, architects and others who have established standards and a rating system to certify homes and buildings as "green." A home must score at least 200 points on a scale that covers eight areas: design, energy, water, site, health, materials, disaster mitigation and general. Web site:

- Darren Brinkley's home is under construction at 216 84th Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. Please note that this is a construction site. It is not yet open as a model.

- R.E.A.L. building maintains a Web site at, where there are weekly updates and tutorials on the materials used in the "green" home.

- HGTV will broadcast Red Hot and Green at 9 p.m. June 10, a look at how homeowners are building and remodeling green across the country without sacrificing style.

-The Pinellas Living Green Expo, a free celebration of environmentally friendly materials, appliances and products, is June 16-17 at the Coliseum, Fifth Street at Fourth Avenue N in St. Petersburg. Across the street, at the Sunshine Center, how-to seminars and a festival of films with environmental themes are scheduled. The expo (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 16; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 17) is designed to help consumers find the products, vendors and materials to help them save water and fuel, cut utility bills and driving costs, make homes more energy-efficient and live healthier lives with lower impact on the environment.


[Last modified May 25, 2007, 12:50:45]

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