Tue, Feb 10, 2015 @ 7:18 pm
On North Liberty Street in the Springfield Historic District, looks can be deceiving.
Rows of tall, two-story houses line the road, complete with either stone front steps or a sweeping front porch, looking almost exactly like homes that have stood in the neighborhood for decades.
But, rows of solar panels tucked on the roof hint at something a little more modern inside.
Called Net Zero Energy homes, the Springfield houses are designed to provide a net electricity cost of zero by the end of the year. Along with other energy-efficient features, officials with builder TerraWise Homes say what makes these homes really stand out is an alternative energy source. The solar panels on the roof of the house are connected to JEA’s electric grid, and, through net metering, homes are given credit for any additional energy they are generating into the system. For example, if the home generates more energy than it uses during a month, that amount is translated as credit with JEA. That credit goes toward any electricity bills that exceed the amount of energy the home generated.
This give and take every month is designed to average out to zero at the end of the year, coining the name Net Zero Energy. Alternative energy sources can also be wind or hydro-electric.
David and Melody Shacter, head of TerraWise, started on these energy-effecient homes two years ago. Back then, that section of North Liberty Street had four empty lots and two abandoned homes. They bought the whole section, including the abandoned homes, and started from the ground up.
Working with the Historic Preservation Commission, the Shacters had to work with standards that require new homes to conform to the look and design of the older homes in the district, and the designs for each of the eight homes was approved by the commission before they were built. They also worked with the commission to preserve and renovate the older homes to energy sustainable standards.
“It’s very eclectic," said David Shacter. "You have all levels of economic and social in Springfield, and we just felt that the same kind of buyer that would want to buy in Springfield is the same kind of buyer that would want a house that’s a little different.”
And Springfield hasn't proven them wrong. Out of the six new houses TerraWise has built, all but two of them are sold. That doesn't come as a surprise to Sara Boren, executive director of U.S. Green Building Council of North Florida. In the past few years, she has seen a bigger want for energy-efficient power sources, especially solar. The declining price of solar systems also helps, but the challenge is making alternative energy sources easier to pay for as a utility and recognized as an added value to the house. She says that TerraWise is a leader in helping homeowners combine the cost and installation of the solar panels with their mortgage, and USGBC of North Florida is also trying to pass a bill called PACE — Property Assessed Clean Energy — that would attach energy-efficient improvements to the property tax on the house or business. Options like these, she says, doesn't tie the cost of energy to one person, and allows it to stay on-property even after the person who installed the improvements moves away.
“I think it’s coming. There’s a lot of players that want to do it, and it’s not rocket science,” said Boren.
On top of installing solar panels to these homes, other energy efficient improvements include:
■ Completely insulating outside walls and inside the roof to keep running air in, lowering the cost of heating and cooling.
■ Installing energy-efficient windows and more windows in the house to bring in more natural light, limiting the need for electricity.
■ Purchasing energy-efficient appliances.
■ Installing LED lights.
■ Landscaping with native plants, reducing the need to run outside irrigation.