Greenovating With Dr. Anna Marie

After purchasing a decades-old house in Umatilla, Dr. Anna Marie realized she had the ideal “greenovation” project. Health specialist for The Weather Channel and host/executive producer of the nationally syndicated better living show Your Life with Dr. Anna Marie, she already had a huge audience. What better way to show homeowners that you can “go green” without building brand new?

Two years ago, she wasn’t exactly looking for a house. A board member of the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation, she was in Orlando for meetings and met up with Larry Bramblett, friend and former BSLF president, for a trail ride. On that ride she noticed a farm for sale adjacent to the riding trails in the Ocala National Forest.

Not that she could see much from the road. The 1972 concrete-block home had been sitting empty for years and was overgrown with brush. Still, the setting on 23 sweeping acres was intriguing and Dr. Anna Marie called the real estate agent.

“Fixer upper” was an understatement, but she couldn’t get enough of the views and the tranquil atmosphere of the rural surroundings. By the time she signed the closing papers in July 2008, she’d already named the property “Terra Verde” and had a dream of transforming the energy-sucking house into an eco-friendly dwelling.

An avid rider, Dr. Anna Marie first caught “horse fever” as a child, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that she actually bought her first horse. Now she’s the proud owner of seven horses and is thrilled to have them at her home. She’s also looking forward to letting children involved with the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation use the farm for hands-on experiences.

Like most horse enthusiasts, Dr. Anna Marie’s first goal after buying the property was to redo the barn, and she stayed true to her greenovation goals. Working with ASI Building Products, a Tampa-based company that excels at innovative exterior building products and technologies, new metal roofing was installed by Bob Sackrider from Sacks Roofing that contains photovoltaic panels to absorb solar energy. WePower vertical-access wind turbines were installed, while spray foam insulation under the roof panels made the barn cooler and added structural support.

Thanks to the solar panels and wind turbines, the barn helps generate energy for the home. During the summer, Dr. Anna Marie anticipates that these sources will create extra power to sell back to the local utility company.

Once the barn was up to par for her equine family, Dr. Anna Marie was ready to tackle the extensive house renovation. A primary goal was to certify the home as “green” using standards set by the non-profit Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC), so she turned to its president, Jennifer L. Languell, Ph.D.

Another expert Dr. Anna Marie called on was James Lucia of Orlando-based Lucia & Monday Architecture. An integral part of the design team, Lucia, a Certified Green Professional, was especially enthusiastic that the project involved remodeling an existing home, rather than building new.

“Jim has definitely been a big help in transforming this very ‘Brady-looking’ structure into a work of art,” says Dr. Anna Marie.

Indeed, when she bought the sprawling Florida ranch house, it looked like the Brady Bunch might have lived there. The early-‘70s décor included plastic lattice on inside walls and dreary drapes that she swears were department store originals.

After gutting the interior walls, the original porches were incorporated into the home’s structural walls. In order to increase substantially the home’s energy efficiency, at least six inches of Icynene spray insulation—a product that contains castor oil and is considered more “green” than standard spray foam insulation—was applied under the roof. Holes were drilled throughout the exterior block walls and Core-Fill insulation was pressure-injected to fill the hollow blocks. Upon completion, stucco will cover the small holes.

“Eight million single-family homes in the state of Florida use 50 percent of the state’s energy,” says Languell. “Energy is a huge part of ‘green.’ The insulation part of the renovation isn’t sexy to most people, but this is what makes all the pretty parts work.”

Using the earth itself to cool and heat the house, a geothermal system was part of the greenovation. (A 30-percent federal tax credit makes geothermal even more appealing to homeowners.) Dr. Anna Marie turned to Florida GeoSource to install the horizontal loop system in the pasture next to the house. Because the ground temperature remains at roughly 72 degrees year-round in Florida, water that runs through the coil system is cooled or heated to ground temperature. Water is then channeled back into the main unit and used to cool or heat the house. Even during the steamy summer months, the home’s interior remains a comfortable 76 degrees.

“Another thing we’re doing is breaking the home down into four temperature zones with Arzel Zoning,” adds Dr. Anna Marie. “If one room/area isn’t being used, there’s no sense cooling or heating that part of the house as much as where there is more activity. It’s another energy-saving strategy.”

“The EPA says our indoor air quality is five times more polluted than outdoor air because of volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” continues Dr. Anna Marie, who has teamed up with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) for the greenovation.

VOCs are chemicals that evaporate (also referred to as “off-gas”) from products commonly found in the home, such as paints, carpets, wood cabinetry, and cleaning products. Many people don’t realize some products can off-gas for up to six years. Studies have linked VOCs to some cancers and nervous system problems. The chemicals can also aggravate respiratory ailments.

“Indoor air is a huge issue in eco-friendly building because it hits so close to home. Our mission statement is ‘A green home is a healthy home,’ not only for the planet but for your family’s health,” says Dr. Anna Marie. “My whole goal is to motivate, educate, and inspire folks to ‘greenovate,’ not just renovate.”

Featured throughout is sleek coconut palm cabinetry by Holiday Kitchens, a Wisconsin company that employs eco-friendly manufacturing processes, including the use of low-VOC paints and stains. In addition to high-quality craftsmanship, the company’s computerized cutting methods minimize waste, and excess wood is used for animal bedding and landscape materials.

Going green can be highly attractive as one glance at the 100-percent recycled-glass tile backsplash by Crossville and the Vetrazzo recycled-glass countertops confirms. It’s hard to believe that the gleaming amber-brown in the counters hails from recycled ale bottles. Going green with these glass products is a healthy choice as well because of their zero-VOC emissions.

Determined to make her home as healthy and energy-efficient as possible, Dr. Anna Marie chose additional solutions such as an Aprilaire whole-home air cleaner and central dehumidification system for controlled, fresh-air ventilation; a Beam Central Vacuum System; window treatment fabrics designed to reduce airborne contaminants from Springs Window Fashions; and zero-VOC wall paint. Recycled ceramic tile replaced the out-dated shag carpeting, while the media room sports carpeting made from recycled plastic bottles to soften the acoustics.

When it came to major appliances, Electrolux was the choice, not simply because of their Energy Star rating, but because of Electrolux’s dedication to support the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Dr. Anna Marie lost her mother to the silent killer two years ago.

Simonton Windows came onboard as a green partner of the greenovation project. The glass in both the windows and patio doors meets the government’s energy ratings for homeowners to take advantage of up to $1,500 in energy tax credit.

“My friends are amazed I’m actually living here during the construction,” admits Dr. Anna Maria, who, along with her fiancé and production manager Todd Trepiccione, appreciates the opportunity to have hands-on involvement in the project.

She will continue to split her time between her Chesapeake Bay home in Maryland and her Central Florida farm. She’s already decided the field next to the house is the perfect location to build a studio for her company, Facci Bella Production, named after her SPCA rescue dog Facci Bella, which means “pretty face” in Italian.

For Dr. Anna Marie, living “green” just makes sense. If her “greenovation” project can educate and inspire others to do the same, she considers that icing on the cake.

Want To Know More?

Check out the Terra Verde transformation at

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