'Florida House 2.0' to debut


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SARASOTA COUNTY — Like the sellers of a 20-year-old home, the leaders of the Florida House Institute knew they had some updating to do in order to sell the message of their aging demonstration home.

In fact, they had to overhaul the house, its landscape and their business plan just to get it open to the public, starting with an Earth Day 2015 celebration on Saturday.

Florida House, 21 years old this week, has been mostly dormant since being moved in 2007. Now the sustainable demonstration home and landscape celebrates Earth Day 2015 with a reopening event on Saturday, April 25. It has a renewed mission and a new name -- Florida House Institute. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-17-2015.

Florida House, 21 years old this week, has been mostly dormant since being moved in 2007. Now the sustainable demonstration home and landscape celebrates Earth Day 2015 with a reopening event on Saturday, April 25. It has a renewed mission and a new name -- Florida House Institute. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 4-17-2015.

The house has been largely dormant since 2007.

Now, armed with a revised mission statement, a startup grant from Sarasota County and a three-year, $377,685 grant from the Toyota USA Foundation, “Florida House 2.0” is finally back as a resource for people interested in living more sustainably, or at least making their homes more water- and energy-efficient.

The Toyota grant, announced Monday, will fund a STEM — a now widely used acronym for “science, technology, engineering and math” — curriculum to teach fifth-graders about how households use, and can keep from wasting, water and energy.

The intent is to use the demonstration house and landscape to inspire students and raise science test scores. Karen Curlin, an FHI board member and former educator, and Cori Washington both volunteered to help prepare the grant application. Dr. Todd Bowden, the Sarasota County School District’s executive director of Career, Technical and Adult Education, also played a key role.

About 3,400 students will visit the house each year, said Wayne Mathe, FHI’s MAST coordinator.

“Our real focus is on energy usage in the house,” Mathe said. “We will try to make the students aware of what is happening when they turn on a light switch or take a hot shower.

“It will be hands-on. They’ll do a scavenger hunt to look for energy eaters, then do energy surveys in their own homes. We want them to leave here excited.”

Successful run

rFLORIDA226Opened on Earth Day 1994 at Beneva and Proctor roads, Florida House had a successful run as a model of sustainability education until it was moved in 2007 to make way for Suncoast Polytechnic High School.

The house, developed as a public-private partnership between the Extension Service and FHI, was built in response to a proposed building moratorium amid a water shortage in the early 1990s. The original idea was to teach homebuilders how to conserve resources in both the house and the landscape.

The moratorium was defeated by Sarasota County voters, but the house, owned by the county and then operated by the University of Florida’s county extension service on land leased from the school board, went ahead with its educational mission.

More than 130,000 people visited it in its first decade. A dedicated group of volunteers helped staff it under extension agent Mike Holsinger and education specialist Betty Alpaugh.

But after the move, Sarasota County was no longer able to pay for the house’s operation as the Great Recession deflated property tax revenues.

The Florida House Institute made several efforts to reopen the house with grants and donations, but the effort could not be sustained.

Finally, two years ago, FHI got a fresh lease from the county, at $1 a year, and a grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to develop a new business plan. It continues to seek donations of money.

Vendors and manufacturers, eager for a place to display their products and services, have made in-kind donations of materials and methods that strengthen, improve quality of life and conserve resources in existing buildings.

Florida House 2.0

Florida House, renamed Florida House Institute or “Florida House 2.0,” now has a new kitchen and bathroom; insulated, low-e, impact-resistant windows from PGT; new high-efficiency air-conditioning from Carrier; wiring for digital electronics; synthetic decking and wheelchair ramps; a new landscape that is dotted with "native thickets" and edible plants and achieves “watershed balance” by retaining 100 percent of rainwater on site; and an electric-vehicle charging station powered by the house’s 15-kilowatt array of solar panels.

In keeping with its age, its mission also has been refined. As the house originally was built to demonstrate “green” construction to the builder community, the emphasis will switch from new construction to the retrofitting of existing structures.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the public is welcome to tour the landscape and renovated areas of the house (a work in progress) and to ask questions. Hands-on activities for children will be offered, as well as demonstrations of an electric vehicle. Admission is free.

The event is being held with FHI’s next-door neighbor, the Suncoast Science Faulhaber Fab Lab. Ping Faulhaber will open the celebration with John Lambie, who co-founded Florida House in the early 1990s and is its executive director.

Three-tier mission

The Florida House Institute has a three-fold mission, said Lambie:

• A demonstration house, showing homeowners how they can retrofit their houses, or build new ones, in the areas of energy, water and structure, including quality of life. The latter includes universal design or “aging in place,” growing or consuming local food and providing clean indoor air.

“The big benefit in coming here is helping you make a plan,” Lambie said. “You will see the things you would like to do to make your house more sustainable. Having a plan is the first of the low-hanging fruit” of going green.

• A public meeting center for rent, with a remodeled living room that can hold about 50 people for meetings, plus smaller groups in the secondary rooms.

“We’ve paid a lot of attention to acoustics and lighting,” Lambie said. “We’ve enclosed the porch, and it has high-grade PGT sliding doors that attenuate the sound from the street to make it a good meeting space.”

• A think tank that will be “a network to capitalize on the expertise in this community . . . to bring that expertise to bear on community opportunities,” Lambie said.

“Our mission is ‘future by design,’ ” he said, “so we think by engaging in the future we would like to have, we create markets for the entrepreneur and might be able to arrive at a future we all like, or that our grandkids would like.”

Starting with those 3,400 fifth-graders.


Earth Day 2015, Florida House Institute with Suncoast Science Faulhaber Fab Lab, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 4452 and 4454 Beneva Road in Sarasota. Music, food, hands-on activities for children, building tours, electric car demonstrations. Free. FLHouse.org.


Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: April 21, 2015
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