Zero-energy homes are Tarpon Springs builder's goal
TBO.com | June 28, 2010
TAMPA - In this economy, just lowering your electric bill would be an accomplishment.
How about not having one at all?
That could be the future of home building in the Tampa Bay area, said long-time builder Mark Rutenberg.
His company, Tarpon Springs' Mark Rutenberg Homes, broke ground last week on its first zero-energy home. The 4,500 square-foot Mediterranean-style residence will be in the upscale Palm Harbor subdivision of Hawks Landing.
"Our homes are built extremely well," Rutenberg said. "But it's time to be proud of something other than just being pretty."
The idea is to use materials that reduce a home's energy footprint and equip it with renewable resources of energy.
Rutenberg recently partnered with his friend Alfonso Castaneira, a film producer from Safety Harbor, to form Zero Energy America.
The two started hatching plans for the zero-energy home two years ago over coffee. Rutenberg said the idea wasCastaneira's and he searched for the right builder to make it happen.
"He'd call me for lunch, and our conversations would end up feeling more like an interview than just talking to a friend," Rutenberg said.
The two hope to spark a green building revolution that will turn every home in America into a zero-energy building.
The motivation? Protecting the environment and building homes in a way that doesn't contribute to health problems.
"The health issues created by the materials we traditionally use to build homes are very real," he said. "The industry can do better."
The oil gusher in the Gulf, Rutenberg said, is an example of why America needs to be less reliant on oil. But it's not just about automobiles, he said.
Buildings and houses are responsible for 48 percent of greenhouse gasses, while cars are only responsible for 12 percent, Rutenberg said.
Zero Energy America received about $2.1 million in grants from Gov. Charlie Crist's Energy Office and the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.
Part of the project is to produce a PBS documentary of the home-building process. The home is expected to take about a year to construct.
The company also persuaded industry heavy-hitters to join the efforts. Some companies donated materials and others offered product at a discount.
Companies participating include Aurora Lighting Inc., Monier Lifetile, PGT Industries, Blue World Crete, Kohler and Whirlpool Corp.
The home is being built on a spec basis, meaning there's no buyer yet. It will likely cost about $1 million.
How can every home be built this way if the cost is so high?
Rutenberg and Castaneira plan to demonstrate. The Palm Harbor home will be one of four upscale zero-energy homes but the pair plan to build more modest homes, too.
They aim to build a village of homes ranging from about 1,500 square feet to 2,000 square feet and sell them for $200,000 to $300,000. Rutenberg said no site has been chosen yet..
"When you build an upscale home to zero-energy standards, it usually adds about 18 percent to the cost of the home, but when you build less expensive homes, that percentage goes down," Rutenberg said. "And over time, you get those costs back."
The first home will have solar water heaters and tile roofing that reflects heat. It will have low-energy LED lighting and paperless drywall that prevents mold and mildew.
The home will use photovoltaic solar panels to produce electricity and generate more kilowatt hours than it will consume, Rutenberg said, bringing the electric bill to zero.
"Certain times of the day it will draw from the grid," Rutenberg said. "Other times, it will feed the grid back or store electricity for later use. Basically, it will run the meter backwards."
The walls will be made of autoclaved aerated concrete, which Rutenberg said is lighter than traditional concrete and will hold up better to fire and wind.
"It's time the building industry measured itself by functional performance," he said, "not just fashion."