Tips for Building High-Performance Homes in Florida

HousesThatWork-Justin-ImageIn March 2013, I took the Houses That Work: New Homes one-day course in Tampa, Florida on building high-performance homes (green homes). As stated during the course: “Homes that are safer, healthier, quieter, more comfortable, more efficient, and sustainable”. Targeted at building professionals and delivered by the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA), I walked away with lots of practical advice for building better homes, especially for warm climates (IECC climate zones 1-3). Here’s what I learned.


There are 100,000 builders in the US.  Some of them build high-performance homes. Most do not. And in Miami-Dade, Florida, I have yet to meet a builder who builds high-performance homes, forget about even understanding the meaning of an high-performance home. Even after meeting numerous builders at the 2012 Excellence in Building Conference by EEBA in Phoenix, AZ, arguably one of the top conferences for high-performance building, I was no closer to finding a builder of high-performance homes in South Florida. (If you know one, please leave a comment). But conference attendees that I met there, spoke highly of the 13-part Houses That Work seminar series. So I signed-up for the Houses That Work: New Homes course in nearby Tampa, Florida. There were about 20 people in the class, all of them from Florida. We had energy raters, home inspectors, building officials, plumbers, HVAC contractors, and 1 builder. Curiously, there were no architects and I’m surprised more builders did not attend. Our instructor was Justin Wilson–no, not the Cajun humorist. But Justin Wilson, from, who was equally entertaining and provided countless examples of real-world experience–good and bad–from Habitat for Humanity homes to multi-million dollar mansions. This was not theoretical building science. It was real-world building science from a guy who has seen a lot. The course cost $140, which was likely off-set in large part by sponsorships. Sponsors at the event included Andersen Windows, Panasonic, Owens Corning, Venmar, and GreenFiber. Sure, this was a lead-generation event for those vendors. But I was happy to attend given the great content and reasonable cost. I just didn’t sign-up for any of the free prizes. I’m a professional marketer by day, so I know how that works.

Building Warm-Weather High-Performance Homes

The rate of change in building materials, mechanical systems, appliances and consumer lifestyles is making houses more complex than ever. And that rate of change only continues to accelerate. The key lesson from the past 30 years of housing research is that good workmanship and good materials are not enough. Builders must now take a systems approach, integrating wall system design, window selection, types and levels of insulation, sealing of air leakage areas, and heating and cooling systems. Over the next 8 hours, we covered 12 areas of Houses That Work:

  1. Houses that Work (intro)
  2. House as a system
  3. Building science
  4. Water management
  5. Foundation systems
  6. Air sealing
  7. Advanced framing
  8. Insulation
  9. Windows
  10. Roof systems
  11. Mechanical systems
  12. Process change

Key takeaways for each of these topics is covered in the session summary handout. (EEBA, if you are listening, this would be a great upload on SlideShare)

Other Highlights

  • Goal for building high-performance home: create a building enclosure that separates the indoors from the outdoors and is safe and healthy for the people inside
  • EcoPulse survey asked consumers to name one energy-efficient feature in homes. Responses were: #1 solar panels (62%); #2 CFL light bulbs (14%); #3 tankless water heaters (consumers have a lot to learn!)
  • Building science is about the flow of 3 things: heat, air moisture
  • 30% of US households have allergy/asthma problems. A high-performance home frequently eliminates allergy/asthma problems
  • By the year 2030, we will build net-zero homes
  • A tight building enclosure is the most cost-effective way to reduce energy usage – saving 20-30%
  • Every 3-5 years, homes become 10% more power efficient
  • ICFs and SIPs are good building systems for Florida
  • #1 heat transfer issue in Florida: heat radiation through the roof, walls, and windows
  • A good interior wall insulation system in Florida: install XPS behind 1x stickers over CMU
  • Insulation should touch on all 6 sides of air barrier: no gaps, no voids, no compression
  • Tucson, AZ; Houston, TX and Florida are the last markets for single pane windows in the US.

Looking Ahead

The 2012 IECC is set to make important changes to the…

2012 IECC Code Changes – Thermal
2012 IECC Code Changes – Thermal

Thanks again to Justin Wilson for a great class. I’m on my way to take two more Houses that Work workshops at the Southeast Builders Conference, July 11-13, 2013.

And I hear that Gord Cooke is a great instructor as well. See you there.