Florida plugs more houses into the sun
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"What standards like those in Florida do is begin that process of educating the builders," he continues. "I think the public is a lot less conservative than the builders think. In our area the more innovative houses -- those that are better insulated, have double glazes, and take into account solar loading -- are the houses that sell.Skip to next paragraph
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"What the code down there is going to do is push people toward buying those kinds of houses and the builders will have courage to go beyond the code." Then he adds that the "heavy financial pressure on the builder generally makes it unattractive to experiment."
When the new code was still looming on the horizon, Centex broke ground on a 2,500-home energy-efficient subdivision in the Miami area. Each home features a solar water heater as a standard part of the energy package, according to Charlie Waggenheim, director of construction for Centex in Florida and the driving force behind the project.
"It is my understanding that the commitment Centex Homes in Florida Inc. has made [to solar] down here is probably the largest in the Southeast, probably east of the Mississippi," he says. In addition to the Miami project, the firm is putting in about 900 more of those homes in the Palm Beach area.
Mr. Waggenheim declares that the Centex home office "is definitely watching us to see how it works out. And if things work out well, there will probably be strong interst in doing something similar in California and Denver."
But the situation in Orlando may be the most telling. It is there that a local firm, GM Builders Inc., has dedicated itself to energy efficiency in buildings. Local and state news media have carried the story about the progressive independent builder who pioneered the affordable energy-efficient concept in central Florida.
"When other builders found out I was going to build a subdivision featuring solar and other energy-saving features and sell them for under $50,000 apiece, they said it couldn't be done. But we have done it and probably every builder in the area has come through these homes to see how we are doing it," asserts Leon Mausser, president of the company.
Each house at the firm's South Pine Run subdivision features an 82-gallon solar-hot-water system by Rheem, extra-heavy insulation, double-paned tinted windows, and a list of other energy-saving items.
On Florida's energy code scale of a maximum of 100, the houses average below 50, which Mr. Mausser believes is the best energy rating available for that price of new home in the state. GM Builders is experimenting with a natural cooling system in one of its homes and is preparing to break ground on the area's first multifamily solar complex.
Both Mausser and Thompson agree that the home-buying public is not conservative.
"Solar," says Mausser, "is a basic concept that is very effective. And we are getting a tremendous number of people coming through just because they happen to see the solar collectors. We are selling a lot of houses when you consider the availability of money."
Realizing that energy-efficient homes have substantial appeal in central Florida, William Hargreaves, an English developer, contracted GM Builders to build an entire 130-home subdivision for him. Mr. Hargreaves is billing the homes as "legends in their own time," based on the energy features.
According to Mausser, the solar system alone knocks 20 percent or more off the utility bill. And, he says, families living in three-bedroom homes paid as low as 96 cents a day for electricity during the state's cold snap last winter, which in many cases doubled electric bills for families living in traditional housing.
It's that kind of information that is drawing builders and buyers alike into these "homes for the future."
The early result seems to be what legislators and solar proponents had hoped for.
Clearly, the houses are stimulating the energy consciousness of builders and consumers alike and are expected to save inestimable amounts of oil and put new meaning in the nickname Sunshine State.