Design — 31 March 2017
Architects, builders get more eco-friendly

By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub

City & Shore Magazine Contributing Design Editor

With apologies to Kermit the Frog: It’s easier to be green.

Designer Bernadette Upton, of EcoDecor in North Palm Beach, says not too long ago it was impossible to get architects and builders to create eco-friendly designs. No more. Now companies like Pacheco-Martinez & Associates, which specialize in design of luxury homes, keep the environment in mind for eco-conscious clients.





If you are worried that a large expanse of windows will cause your electric bill to skyrocket, check out this eco-friendly home in South Miami.

The architects were able to design the house with walls of glass and clerestory windows thanks to Low-E (low emissivity) plated glass, which allows natural light in without having damaging UV rays enter and prevents heat radiation from passing through to the inside. These windows preserve the view and lower air conditioning costs. The glass is protected with an overhang and powder-coated aluminum louvered shutters. The front door is also protected with an overhang. When needed, the air conditioning is high-efficiency.

“It was important for the homeowner to have views of the courtyards, swimming pool and surrounding grounds,” says Ramon Pacheco, architect and president of Pacheco-Martinez & Associates. The company won a Design Award of Merit for this home from the Society of Registered Architects.

The curved metal roof and the concrete flat roof were insulated. The architects specified SuperTherm insulating paint on the inside of the exterior walls and the underside of the concrete roofs. The paint repels 95 percent of the radiation heat (UV, Short Wave and Long Wave); only 5 percent of the heat attempts to enter the home. We can thank NASA for this water-based coating used inside the Space Shuttle.

During the day natural light is enough because of the sliding glass doors and clerestory windows. They installed energy efficient LED lighting and dimmers. The floors are terrazzo, which the architects say is greener to use and install than wood.

Orlando Comas, the landscape architect, selected trees to provide more sun protection. He added live oaks and pigeon palms for shade.

“Our special concern was to conserve water and keep all the native plant material on the site, such as live oaks and wax myrtles,” Comas says. “We needed to protect the house, particularly on the west and southwest so we could have a direct impact on temperature and energy.”

Permeable pavers were added to conserve water. The water that goes through the pavers goes back into the aquifer.

How popular is eco-friendly design?

“It is not for everyone because it costs more,” Pacheco says. “The cost can be $50 more per square foot. This house was $400 per square foot.”




Bernadette Upton took an Earth science course in 1982 and had an epiphany that changed her career as an interior designer.

“I came in one person and came out another,” she says. “I realized how many environmental problems we had.”

Upton, who operates EcoDecor with her husband, Daniel R. Giordano, received more insight a few years ago when she worked with the Southeast Florida American Lung Association’s telethon for October Breathe Easy Month. A woman who was eight months pregnant called in and was concerned that she had just painted the baby’s room with an oil-based paint, which can produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can cause breathing problems and harm the baby.

“Typically we bring babies home to the sickest room in the house,” Upton says. The nursery is “sick” because parents typically select items that are cute rather than safe.

When the local chapter of the lung association decided to do a designers’ show house in West Palm Beach in 2006, Upton designed the baby’s room to provide a beautiful room that also can be breathable and safe. The mattress was made of real rubber foam with an organic cotton cover. The furniture was painted with low VOC paints and she kept the original wood flooring. The sofa was covered in natural, not manmade, fabrics. (See sidebar for more of her tips.)

Upton has built her credentials as a designer, lecturer and consultant in environmental interior design. She is a founding member of the national ASID Sustainable Design Council, a LEED (Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional BD+C and Faculty member with the US Green Building Council (USGBC). In addition, a member and Home Designator of The Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC) and a member of the National Environmental Health Association.

“Every product you bring into your home should be user friendly and environmentally friendly,” she says. “Is it good for people and good for the planet? Where does it come from? How is it manufactured?”

She offered the following advice to make your home green:

Use paint with low or no VOCs. Behr Premium Plus and Valspar Signature have no VOCs. Most paint companies offer low VOC paint.

Change bulbs. Your best bet is LED lights. Put them on dimmers for even longer life.

Best bet appliances. Look for Energy Star labels. Whirlpool has an Eco-Boost Option on washers and dryers. Compare energy ratings for the most efficient.

Certifications count. Look for Greenguard Certified products that meet clean air standards and Forest Stewardship Council Certification, which sets standards on forest products, and certifies and labels them as eco-friendly.



Bernadette Upton EcoDecor, 36 Federal Highway, Suite 107, North Palm Beach, 561-844-7089,

Julio Estorino and Ramon Pacheco Pacheco-Martinez, 4990 SW 72nd Ave., Suite 101, Miami, 305-666-2573,

Landscape architect, Orlando Comas 7428 SW 48th St., Miami, 305-264-3841.

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