As a child, Anna Marie Chwastiak — who is better known to most people as Dr. Anna Marie from "The Weather Channel" — was like millions of other girls. She wanted a pony.
“On my office desk, I still have a picture of my first pony ride. My dad took that picture in Frackville, Pennsylvania, when I was five years old,” she says. “It reminds me of my love of horses.”
After reporting a sports medicine piece that let her spend a week with the champion race horse Smarty Jones team, Chwastiak realized it rekindled her love of horses. “When I walked away from that story, I decided to get a horse,” she says.
In 2005, around the same time she adopted her horses, Chwastiak was in Florida filming a documentary on an organization that uses horses to encourage children to read. She became enthusiastic about the program and got involved personally. Because of that, she traveled to Florida frequently.
Chwastiak, who spent much of her life living in the cold-weather Mid-Atlantic States, realized that in warm-weather Florida, she could ride her horses more often. During one visit, she was on a horseback ride when she and her riding companion came across an abandoned farm.
“We rode across the pasture and by the south-facing buildings,” she explains. “There was a nice breeze, even though it was the middle of summer."
There was also a lot to like about the area. Chwastiak saw an opportunity. “What a perfect place to take an old energy-sucking property and transform it right,” she says.
What transpired from that chance encounter on the ride is Terra Verde, Chwastiak’s home and horse farm on the edge of Ocala National Forest. She calls it her personal Green Acres, or literally, the green land — Terra Verde.
In what she terms the “Greenovation of Terra Verde,” Chwastiak turned the neglected buildings into a sustainable and functional home and horse barn.
Horses before people
“We wanted to get the horses down here first,” she laughs, saying her priority was to remodel the barn and then worry about the house. However, there was a lot of work to be done.
“There probably weren’t any horses in that barn for 10 years. There was grass growing in the six stalls. We had about three feet of shavings and manure in the stalls. It was concrete block and steel doors with wood slats,” Chwastiak recalls.
Yet, perhaps the most stunning aspect of the old barn, she says, was its lighting system. “There were two 150-watt incandescent light bulbs dangling from the center beam.” That’s all.
The first job was to tackle the barn clean up.
“I wanted to make the property eco- friendly, but I also wanted to make it sanitary,” she says. Everything was cleaned out and leveled, and a concrete apron was installed around the barn.
“We took out the wooden planks and what was supposed to be ventilation,” she says. “We put new doors — aluminum doors.” The ventilation and light flow were improved and now the horses could see each other.
They added fans and an automatic watering system to make sure the horses are always kept comfortable. After all, Florida can get quite warm and humid. And Chwastiak knows it is critical that the horses always have enough water to keep from getting dehydrated.
But another benefit of the automated water supply fit well into the building’s overall green design. “We wanted to make sure the horses always had fresh water but we wanted to do so without wasting water,” she explains.
Dehumidifiers in the tack room and hay room control the moisture and prevent mold.
Let there be light
The barn’s decrepit two-bulb lighting system bothered Chwastiak a lot and remained at the forefront of her mind and her remodeling plans.
“Our plan was to put LED lighting throughout the house,” she explains. It was decided this would be the best plan of action for the barn, as well.
Chwastiak worked with a local lighting company to design a system that provides the illumination needed while also saving energy. “The LED lights are a pretty light," she says. "You can flip it on and get instant light. CFL lights, if you break them, give you concerns about mercury. There are no health hazards with LEDs. You can burn these lights for six, eight hours and you can put it up to your cheek and it won’t burn you.”
A lighting system that throws off minimal heat is important, she adds. “In trying to keep a barn cool, you don’t want lighting that is going to generate more heat, especially in the middle of summer.”
But what truly astonished Chwastiak was this: after installing the LED lighting system in every stall, every aisle, the tack room — every area in the barn that would need lighting — the total energy of all the lighting doesn’t equal one of those original 150-watt bulbs.
“It comes out to about 10 watts per bulb, and 80 percent savings of the original lighting,” she explains.
Solar is the solution
Chwastiak decided to take advantage of the barn’s southern face. “I wanted solar hot water in the house,” she says. “But where to put the solar panels?” The solar panels she needed would have been too overwhelming for the barn. In addition, the barn had its original tin roof and truss system of untreated wood.
“I thought, what was the most eco- friendly roof that will also withstand storms and the heat? It’s metal, and I chose a 100 percent aluminum roof, which is recyclable,” she says.
Chwastiak also found a program called EnergyPeak.com, which is a complete building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) solar standing seam roof system.
A metal roofing team and the EnergyPeak team worked together to create a roof where the solar panels are already integrated into the metal panels.
“We’re harvesting energy from the sun, which is producing energy for the barn and the house. It’s a unique system and a good-looking roof. And it will be there for the life of the barn,” she says with pride.
Turning the barn into an environmentally friendly facility had its share of challenges, though.
“I call it Terra Verde, but some days, I call it ‘Terror Verde,’” she chuckles. “To build a barn green from scratch is a lot easier. Retrofitting is always difficult, but adding green can make it more so.”
That’s particularly true on a 40-year-old structure that was designed for function, not for efficiency, she groans.
In the long run, all of the challenges were more than worth it.
“Building green is good for the environment. It’s good for the horses,” concludes Chwastiak.