Residents’ ‘Green House’ attracting many visitors

When Albert and Enid Harum-Alvarez set out to build their “Green House,” they decided they wanted something special.

Now it has become an environmental “first” in its Continental Park neighborhood, attracting hundreds of visitors who want to learn more about “green” building and savings on their power bills. Unique construction features and conservation methods abound at almost every corner, from the home’s rare “cellar” to composting bathroom waste to fertilize fruit trees.

The two-story, 2,300-square-foot residence overlooks a secluded Florida hammock where SW 98th Terrace reaches a dead-end, a block east of SW 82nd Avenue and only a short distance from the Dice House, Kendall’s first residence, that Harum-Alvarez helped salvage.

The Green House faces north toward a 1,100-square-foot house, known to Kendall old-timers as the “Smoak Cottage,” where the family has continued to live during the construction of the Green House, including the couple’s three teens — Gabriel, 18, attending Miami Dade College; Giovanna, 16, a junior at Killian High School, and Marjory, 11, attending Kenwood K-8 Center.

As history buffs, the Harum-Alvarez couple compiled a history of Kenwood Elementary, Kendall’s first school, when its PTSA celebrated the school’s 75th anniversary in 2005, then newly designated as Kenwood K-8 Center.

Projects like that are second nature to the Harum-Alvarezes, who decided a “second” home in their tropical surroundings should reflect what pioneers discovered when building year-around homes, long before air-conditioning, by using contemporary materials to duplicate what earlier Floridians knew was needed to create cooling interiors and living comfort in a sub-tropic climate.

“We delayed naming the new home because we wanted special name,” Harum- Alvarez told nearly 50 touring friends, business associates and inquisitive professionals concerned with preservation and “green” construction on May 4. Harum- Alvarez estimates he has hosted as many as 50 informal tours during the past two and a half years).

“As time went on, we kept calling it the ‘Green House,’ so that became its name,” smiled the former schoolteacher turned businessman who has long treasured original Florida homesteads and their histories.

Features built-into the Green House will doubtless comprise a book some day, including the unique ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) units creating solid walls “stronger than concrete block that also help to maintain even temperatures from summer through winter,” Harum-Alvarez said. “The interior walls also work to maintain temperatures despite fluctuations outside. We packed interior walls with scrap drywall instead of throwing the scraps out.”

Reduced electrical costs resulted in March billing of $35 for the Green House, compared to those of typically sized homes averaging in the $200 range, he noted.

“We re-circulate directly underground, rather than have the return unit above ground where it would be subject to 95- degree air. We recirculate air six feet below ground level where the temperature stays at 73-degrees the year around.”

He estimated the Green House probably saves about $8,000 a year, between energy savings and windstorm insurance, over a comparable home, even without the added cost of a full solar PV array on the roof. “At a time when families don’t have money to waste, such savings are a godsend.

That overview also led to preserving a towering 80-foot high oak that dominates the east side of the landscape, towering above a natural pool, because “the tree provides an aesthetic anchor for siting the house itself,” Harum-Alvarez continued. “It’s a vertical accent, viewed from the eastern double-door deck entry, right through the home interior.”

The philosophy of preserving what is natural to a hammock setting extends to the Green House grounds.

“That rubberized mulch you walk on will eventually be replaced by whatever naturally takes to the soil,” Harum- Alvarez said. “Right now, we have five different species trying to take hold. The one that wins will become permanent.” Harum-Alvarez often ends his tours by saying, “While it took two years to build the house, it’s taken seven years to get our permits.”

He will seek Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson’s soon-tobe- vacated District Eight seat, having counted more than a dozen community organizations on which he has served, including a steering committee for Downtown Dadeland, Habitat for Humanity, Kendall Public Space Committee and a transit corridor study group, among several.

“Miami-Dade has to make it much easier to build new or remodel existing homes,” Harum-Alvarez concluded. “With so much at risk in the face of global climate change, the county should be worldleaders in building strong and efficient housing.”

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