Posts Tagged ‘green’

How did it happen that it has been a couple of years since my last post?  When they say “time flies” it truly does.  Since I reference this blog during the classes I teach and invite people to look at it, I realized I have to keep posting!  And because the goal of the blog is to provide my readers with information and education here is the next installment on Embracing a “Green” lifestyle.  This one is on landscaping.

Landscapes offer many benefits to us, our property values, the environment, and wildlife.  Properties can look fantastic while also integrating conservation techniques into their landscaping.

Here are just a few reasons to create an environmentally friendly landscape:

  • Aesthetic benefits: enjoy lovely flowers, create outdoor rooms, add color, provide visual buffers, etc.
  • Erosion control: many plants have extensive root systems which hold soil in place, preventing rains from washing soil into our waterways.
  • Temperature modification: properly placed shade trees can cool your house in the summer, saving you money! A study shows that a single mature tree gets rid of as much heat on a home site as would require removal by two residential-size central air conditioners if the site were enclosed.  Trees keep surroundings cool and cooler surroundings reduce air conditioning requirements. Temperatures under vegetated areas on sunny summer days are about 10-14 degrees F cooler than those of exposed soil and hard surfaces.
  • Water conservation: shade provided by trees may greatly reduce watering needs in the shaded areas (water will evaporate from the soil more quickly when the ground is subjected to direct, intense heat from the sun).
  • Wind control: grouping trees and plants in windbreaks or clusters slows wind down, protecting your property.
  • Air pollution reduction: 150 square meters of plants provide enough oxygen for one person.  Plants also trap particulates from the air, so we don’t have to breathe them.
  • Reduces light pollution: from street lights, neighbors, glare, etc.  Trees and shrubs can also hide unattractive buildings.
  • Water pollution control: plants trap sediments and pollutants in water, hold shorelines in place, drink excess water, and allow water to percolate back to the aquifers.

Next, techniques for successfully achieving eco-friendly landscapes and applying landscaping to improving the energy efficiency of our homes.


  • Use trees and tall shrubs to shade east, west, northeast, and northwest sides of the house. In North and Central Florida, use full, tall-canopied deciduous trees on the south side.
  • Use foundation plantings to shade lower wall areas, to keep the ground next to the house cool and to block re-radiation from adjacent hot surfaces.
  • Use trees to shade the air conditioner.
  • Plant trees in clusters so that you can take better advantage of watering and growing conditions.
  • Select native plants that are correct for your area.  Native plants are going to be more adapted and tolerant to our soil and water conditions and can minimize the need for pest control, water and fertilizer, and maintenance.  Some examples in Florida:

Large Trees:

Medium and small trees:


  • Replace grass with other types of ground cover.  Compared with grass, ground cover uses fewer pesticides and less water and is; therefore, more eco-friendly.  First think of leaving the natural vegetation on the land.  This saves you clearing expense, will require no maintenance (including no mowing), and can be a selling point to a client.

Ground cover:

  • Consider using mulches as ground cover; placing a layer of mulch directly around shrubs, trees and flower beds helps to conserve water.
  • Also consider planting a garden or using herbs such as mint or oregano as ground cover.

Watch your watering:

  • Water only when needed; when plants show signs of stress from lack of water.
  • Reduce watering during the rainy season and during the winter.
  • Water in early morning or early evening when temperatures and wind speeds are at their lowest.
  • Do not water between 10 am and 4 pm when losses from evaporation and wind can occur.
  • Allow sprinklers to run for the length of time to apply no more than ¾” of water to an area.
  • Always water deeply and thoroughly; it is better to give your lawn one good soaking each week than watering lightly each day.
  • Use automatic watering systems with rain sensors, which by Florida law are required on all automatic systems installed after 1991.
  • Use sprinklers with timers.


There – now start thinking about your landscaping and what you can do to make it more environmentally friendly and save you money!


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Just what is meant by the term “Eco-friendly” and “Sustainability”?  We’ve all heard of them and in fact, have probably all seen them or even used them at one time or another.  However, what do they really mean?  Keep reading to find out.


The term “eco-friendly” literally means earth-friendly or not harmful to the environment. This term most commonly refers to products that contribute to green living or practices that help conserve resources like water and energy. Eco-friendly products also prevent contributions to air, water and land pollution.

Making a truly eco-friendly product keeps both environmental and human safety in mind. At a minimum, the product is non-toxic. Other eco-friendly attributes include the use of sustainably grown or raised ingredients, produced in ways that do not deplete the ecosystem. Organic ingredients or materials are grown without toxic pesticides or herbicides. Products with “made from recycled materials” contain glass, wood, metal or plastic reclaimed from waste products and made into something new. Biodegradable products break down through natural decomposition, which is less taxing on landfills and the ecosystem as a whole.


Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.

All definitions of sustainable development require that we see the world as a system—a system that connects space; and a system that connects time. world in hands

When you think of the world as a system over space, you grow to understand that air pollution from North America affects air quality in Asia, and that pesticides sprayed in Argentina could harm fish stocks off the coast of Australia.

And when you think of the world as a system over time, you start to realize that the decisions our grandparents made about how to farm the land continue to affect agricultural practice today; and the economic policies we endorse today will have an impact on urban poverty when our children are adults.

Kind of gives you goose bumps when you consider it doesn’t it?  And I hope it makes you more aware of how we hold the fate of the world in our hands.

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As people become more environmentally conscious, all kinds of buzz words,start being thrown around, words like “green”, “energy efficiency”; “ecofriendly”; and sustainability. But what do they really mean? In each of the next several blogs I will take the time to clarify these concepts for you. In this blog we will start with the most obvious – “GREEN“.

Generally, when people refer to a “green” home, they are referring to the practice of increasing the efficiency with which homes and the land around them use and harvest energy, water and materials. Such homes are typically built in a way that reduces the impact on human health and the environment, with those efforts undertaken through improved site selection, design, operation, maintenance, and construction.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, a green home is healthy, durable, efficient, and sustainable and has the least impact on the environment. Being green actually requires a whole-building approach to sustainability in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, has developed a green rating system to score buildings constructed using these five areas. LEED provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in those five areas of sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. LEED points are awarded on a 100-point scale, and credits are weighted to reflect their potential environmental impacts. Additionally, 10 bonus credits are available, four of which address regionally specific environmental issues. A project must satisfy all prerequisites and earn a minimum number of points to be certified. In addition, there are four levels of certification: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. LEED has rating systems for new construction; operation and maintenance of existing buildings; commercial interiors; core and shell; schools; retail; healthcare; homes; and neighborhood development. Points are broken down like this:

LEED Rating System
Total Possible Points** 110*

Sustainable Sites 21
Water Efficiency 11
Energy & Atmosphere 37
Material & Resources 14
Indoor Environmental Quality 17

* Out of a possible 100 points + 10 bonus points
** Bronze 40+ points, Silver 50+ points, Gold 60+ points, Platinum 80+ points

Innovation in Design 6
Regional Priority 4

Let’s take a minute and clarify what each of the key evaluation areas refers to:

a. Sustainable Sites: This category discourages development on previously undeveloped land; seeks to minimize a building’s impact on ecosystems and waterways; encourages regionally appropriate landscaping; rewards smart transportation choices, controls storm water runoff; and promotes reduction of erosion, light pollution, heat island effect and construction-related pollution.

b. Water Efficiency: The goal of this category is to encourage smarter use of water, inside and out. Water reduction can be achieved through more efficient appliances, fixtures and fittings inside and water-conscious landscaping outside.

c. Energy & Atmosphere: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings use 39% of the energy and 74% of the electricity produced each year in the US. The Energy and Atmosphere category encourages a wide variety of energy-wise strategies including, but not limited to: energy use monitoring; efficient design and construction; efficient appliances, systems and lighting; the use of renewable and clean sources of energy, generated on-site or off-site.

d. Materials & Resources: During construction and operations phases, buildings generate a lot of waste and use large quantities of materials and resources. This category encourages the selection of sustainably grown, harvested, produced and transported products and materials. It promotes waste reduction as well as reuse and recycling, and it particularly rewards the reduction of waste at a product’s source.

e. Indoor Environmental Quality: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans spend about 90% of their day indoors, where air quality can be significantly worse than outside. The Indoor Environmental Quality category promotes strategies that improve indoor air as well as those that provide access to natural daylight and views and improve acoustics.

Besides these five keys areas, LEED also looks at Locations and Linkages, Awareness & Education, Innovation in Design, and Regional Priority.

a. Locations & Linkages: The LEED rating system recognizes that much of a building’s impact on the environment comes from where it is located and how it fits into its community. This evaluation encourages building on previously developed or infill sites and away from environmentally sensitive areas. Credits reward homes and other buildings that are built near already-existing infrastructure, community resources and transit – in locations that promote access to open space for walking, physical activity and time outdoors.

b. Awareness and Education: A building is considered to be truly green only if the people who live in it use its green features to maximum effect. Builders and real estate professionals are encouraged to provide homeowners, tenants and building managers with education and tools they need to understand what makes their home green and how to make the most of those features.

c. Innovation in Design: Here a building gets bonus points for projects that use innovative technologies to improve a building’s performance well beyond what is required by other LEED credits.

d. Regional Priority: USGBC’s regional councils, chapters and affiliates have identified the most important environmental concerns in their areas, and six LEED Credits addressing these local priorities have been selected for each region of the country.

The overall process of certification includes:

• Contacting a LEED certified Green Rater (a trained, independent, third party person trained to evaluate homes based on LEED requirements) for the type of construction you are doing. Green Raters verify that the building or community is designed and built to the rigorous requirements of LEED within its Rating System through on-site verification. Green Raters are involved with the project from the design phase and throughout the construction process.

• Confirm with your chosen Green Rater that your project is suitable for LEED within your category.

• Upon receiving approval from a Green Rater, register your project with USGBC on their website. Your registration is complete when USGBC receives payment of the registration fee.

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Well, it has been quite some time since I posted fresh information on this blog. The reason: I was busy writing a new course to teach to Realtors in Florida!
It’s title: Making Green by Selling “Green” and its subtitle is: Educating Your Customers to Embrace a Green Lifestyle. Long and tedious but it covers a lot of ground. Specifically, in this course the attendees learn to distinguish between topics associated with being more “Green” so they can teach their customers how they can live an “eco-conscious” lifestyle within any budget. I touch on some new construction components but concentrate predominantly on remodeling and improving existing homes. This course provides “green renovation options” such as xeriscaping, Energy Star appliances, and solar products. We will go over practical things anyone can do to make their homes more energy efficient and sustainable; things that are inexpensive to implement but could result in significant savings. This course will gives suggestions on how to market and sell “eco-friendly” homes successfully and effectively. In addition, by the end of the course attendees will be able to recognize many of these home improvements and use them as marketing tools for a Seller and as selling points for a Buyer.

However, you don’t have to be a realtor or live in Florida to gain valuable information from the content of the course. The course teaches everyone how to be more energy conscious and efficient, outlining practical things that anyone can do regardless of who you are and what you do. Over the next several blogs I will share some of this information. Below is a link to my website, which contains a short video summarizing the course and the other course that I teach. http://youtu.be/Ua-2Oyet-Pg

If you are a Realtor and would like me to teach this class at your board please contact your Education Director/Professional Development Committee and request that they consider offering this course.

Stay tuned for all of the helpful, practical new information on the way. And thank you for reading my blog!

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In this last part of the sinkhole series I will provide you with engineering methods for detecting sinkholes, temporal events that can trigger a sinkhole, and WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A SINKHOLE FORM ON YOUR PROPERTY.

Engineering Methods for Detecting Sinkholes:

Soil borings or other direct testing – Borings can be reduced by “reconnaissance scannings” using the following methods:

  • Electromagnetics (EM) and DC Resistivity: detect variations in subsurface electrical properties related to anomalously thick or wet soils (electrical conductivity highs similar to our use of moisture meters in homes), or voids in the electrically conductive clay soil mantle (electrical conductivity lows)
  •  Spontaneous Potential (SP): detects naturally-occurring minute electrical currents or potentials commonly associated with concentrated vertical water infiltration (Streaming potentials)
  •  Micro-gravity: detects minute variation in gravity (subsurface voids create missing mass and lower gravity)
  •  Seismic Refraction: profiles the top-of-rock which may display conical depressions of a type associated with subsidence sinks or deep gouges or cutters which represent sinkhole-prone lineaments.
  •  Ground-penetrating radar

Temporal Sinkhole Triggers

  • Following a period of heavy or prolonged rain (washing-in supporting soils)
  • Following a period of drought (lowering the water tables, leaving cavities)
  • Following a period of housing development (adding pressure on supporting soils)
  • Over pumping existing water supply wells, or drilling of additional wells in an area (lowering the aquifer)
  • Diverting surface water from a large area and concentrating it in a single point
  • Artificially creating ponds of surface water

So now you think you might have a sinkhole or what do you do if a sinkhole develops on your property?

  • Notify your local Water Management District
  • Fence or rope the hole off
  • Keep children away!
  • Protect the area from garbage and waste
  • Contact your homeowners insurance company

Well, that concludes the three part series on sinkholes.  I hope that it has been informative, and as always, remember KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

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I know – the time between my blogs is way too long and inexcusable.  I can expect to build up a consistent following when I don’t post very often!  My only excuse is that my blog is informational and educational not a commentary on what is happening in my life.  So I apologize to the following that I have that it has been so long again!

This blog is a continuation of the topic of mitigation.  In my last blog I discussed options for mitigating for wetland impacts.  For this one I will outline the types of compensation commonly used to offset impacts to threatened and endangered wildlife species.  My November 2009 blog discussed threatened and endangered species and outlined the types of activities that typically constitute impacts. 

Threatened and Endangered Species and Mitigation

The trick with protected species is to avoid “taking” them.

The determination of whether an impact has occurred to protected species is relatively more straightforward than that for wetlands – if you take down a tree containing a bald eagle nest you have impacted that eagle or if you bulldoze over the top of a gopher tortoise burrow you have impacted that tortoise.  If a site development proposes activities that may “incidentally” impact threatened and endangered species as a result of otherwise lawful activities permits allowing those impacts may be issued by regulatory agencies.  If permits are issued they typically come with the provision that compensation must be completed to offset those impacts.

Compensation Alternatives

In general there are three techniques that can be used to mitigate for impacts to protected species.   They are:  On-site preservation/buffers, Off-site purchase of land, and relocation.

On-site preservation/buffers:  On-site Preservation is mostly used for species that are sedentary and that need large tracts of very specific types of plant communities such as Florida Scrub Jays.  If there are scrub jays on a property, it might be necessary to set aside the entire portion of the property that is inhabited by scrub jays that is then maintained in its natural state and periodically managed to make sure that the conditions stay suitable for that species.

An on-site buffer might be used if you have a species that can be particularly sensitive to human disturbance such as bald eagles.  For example if there is a bald eagle nest on the property, buffers restricting development of up to 1500 feet from the nest could be required. 

Often on-site preservation is a component of buffers (as with the land in the 1500 foot buffer around a bald eagle nest) but buffers can be required beyond the boundaries of actual inhabited boundaries, such as with a gopher tortoise.

Off-site purchase of land:  This method would include the purchase of land away from the development site that either already provides habitat and resident protected species similar to that on the development site or that could be enhanced or restored through management to create suitable habitat for species that are proposed for impact.

Relocation: This is the removal of a species from the development tract and transporting it to an appropriate recipient site away from the development.  This can include a portion of the property that is not slated for development or land off-site that has been set aside as a conservation area.  Most people are familiar with the concept of relocating gopher tortoises off a property being developed.  This currently is the mitigation method being pushed by the state.  A number of approved relocation tracts have been established and the tortoises are excavated from their burrows and transported to one of these recipient sites.  An example of the cost for that could be $800 to $1000/tortoise to the owner of the recipient site and another $300 to the state to be used for land management in addition to the cost of the permit itself.

Real Estate and Threatened and Endangered Species

As with wetlands, there is no size limit on a property that can be occupied by protected species and; therefore, be subject to permitting and possibly the need to complete mitigation.  

How much actual land is buildable (not inhabited by protected species), whether you can obtain a permit to impact occupied habitat to open up more land for development, and the cost of mitigation may all contribute to the value that can be put on the land if you are a Seller.   Just like with wetlands, the Seller has the choice of addressing some or all of these issues prior to the sale of the property or of leaving it up to the buyer to deal with.  If the Seller does some of the work sometimes they can recoup at least a portion of the money laid out for those activities within the sales price.

Remember “Buyer Beware”?  That applies here again.  Buyers need to be sure to build plenty of due diligence time into the contract for purchase so that they can determine if the site is occupied by any threatened or endangered species and to coordinate with regulatory agencies to determine if developing the property is even feasible and; consequently, what mitigation might be required. 

Knowing that additional monies will have to be laid out for complex permitting and mitigation may allow a buyer to negotiate a better price for the property, leaving them with the funds to complete the development even with the protected species permitting challenges and costs that they may face.  So let’s say you are thinking of buying a piece of property that is occupied by gopher tortoises, you will need to know how much the property is listed for but also how much money might have to be budgeted for environmental studies, permitting, and mitigation such as relocation – all before any other construction costs are considered.  The price offer to the seller might deduct some or all of these projected costs from the asking price of the property.

So as with my other blogs, my advice is hire an environmental consultant to make sure you are aware of environmental issues that you will be dealing with regardless if you are the Seller or the Buyer.  Remember KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

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In several of my previous blogs (and I apologize for the length of time between my last blog and this one) I mentioned the term “mitigation”.  This term was used in relation to compensation that might be required for impacts to wetlands or protection species that resulted from development.  For this blog I am going to concentrate on Wetland Mitigation.  If you don’t remember the types of activities that constitute impacts to wetlands refer back to my September 2009 blog.  (Please note that most of the following information is specific to Florida rules and regulations since that is where I am located; however, most of these concepts and methodologies are also recognized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and are likely to apply in other states, as well.)

There is an awful lot of information and specialized knowledge that goes along with the determination of what actions will be considered to be impacts, the calculation of the loss of wetland function (impact) if those wetlands are affected by development, and the determination of the type and amount of compensation that will be required to offset those impacts.  It’s way too much to get into in a blog.  So the purpose of this blog, hopefully, is to give you a little more familiarity with the concepts of impact and mitigation and to provide you with a brief outline of mitigation alternatives available if it is determined that proposed land improvements will cause wetland impacts. 

Wetlands and Mitigation

Wetlands are important components of water resources because they often serve as spawning, nursery and feeding habitat for many species of fish and wildlife, and because they often provide important flood storage, nutrient cycling, detrital production, recreational and water quality functions.  Other surface waters such as lakes, ponds, reservoirs, other impoundments, streams, rivers and estuaries also often provide such functions, and in addition may provide flood conveyance, navigation and water supply functions to the public.  Not all wetlands or other surface waters provide all of these functions, nor do they provide them to the same extent. A wide array of biological, physical and chemical factors affect the functioning of any wetland or other surface water community.

The regulatory agencies have decreed that development can not cause a net adverse impact on wetland function such as those described above that is not offset by mitigation.  In other words, there can be “no net loss of wetland function”.  In Florida, the state agencies use a complicated numerical evaluation system called the Uniform Mitigation Assessment Methodology (UMAM) to determine how much wetland function may be lost as a result of development and; therefore, how much mitigation will be required to compensate. 

Wetland mitigation is defined as an action or series of actions taken to offset adverse impacts that would otherwise cause a regulated activity to fail to meet the “no net loss of wetland function” requirement.  The UMAM method used to determine net wetland function lost is used to evaluate the property or activities proposed as mitigation to ensure that what is proposed is sufficient to offset those impacts.

You should know that prior to allowing compensation for wetland impacts; as part of the permitting process, the developer must first prove to the regulatory agencies that they have eliminated/avoided wetland impacts to the maximum extent.  Following that, if impacts will still occur they have to prove that they have reduced/minimized impacts to wetlands.  Only after that step is completed will any remaining impacts be considered for mitigation.  There are multiple ways to mitigate for lost wetland function.

Compensation Alternatives

In general, there are five mitigation methods: Creation, Restoration, Enhancement, Preservation, or Purchase of Credits from a Mitigation Bank.  Mitigation can and most likely will be a combination of one or more of these.

  • Creation: The conversion of other land forms into wetlands or surface waters.
  • Restoration: The converting back to historic conditions of a wetland, surface water, or upland, which currently exists as a land form different from its historic condition.
  • Enhancement: The improvement of the ecological value of wetlands, surface waters, or uplands that have been degraded in comparison to their historic conditions.
  • Preservation: Protection of wetlands, surface waters, or uplands from adverse impacts by placing a conservation easement or other land use restriction over a property or by donation of fee simple interest in the property.
  • Purchase of Credits from a Mitigation Bank: Mitigation banking means the restoration, creation, enhancement and, in exceptional circumstances, preservation of wetlands and/or other aquatic resources within large tracts of land for the express purpose of providing compensatory mitigation in advance of authorized impacts to similar resources.  Once permitted, mitigation banks have a set number of credits they have been allocated (based on improvements they have made on or will make to the land) that developers, for a fee, can have withdrawn as a means of offsetting adverse wetland impacts.

Real Estate and Wetland Mitigation

There is no limit on the size of the property that can have wetlands and; therefore, be subject to permitting and potentially the need for mitigation if wetlands end up being impacted.  Permitting wetland impacts and providing compensation for those impacts can be costly and time consuming and should be considered by the Seller when placing a value on property.  The Seller has the choice of addressing these issues prior to the sale of the property, in which case they may be able to recoup some of the money laid out for those activities or of leaving it up to the buyer to tackle them.

As indicated in earlier blogs,  it is very important for a Buyer of vacant land to remember that it will be their responsibility to know what they are buying.  The Buyer needs to build plenty of due diligence time into the contract for purchase so that they can determine what issues might be present and to coordinate with regulatory agencies to determine if developing the property is even feasible if there will be wetland impacts and; consequently, mitigation.  Knowing that additional monies will have to be laid out for complex permitting and mitigation may allow a buyer to negotiate a better price for the property, leaving them with the funds to complete the development even with the environmental permitting challenges and costs that they may face.

So hire an environmental consultant to make sure you are aware of environmental issues that you will be dealing with regardless if you are the Seller or the Buyer.  Remember KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

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