By Marcia Lane
An energy study under way at Hancock Place in West Augustine may help homeowners around the state save money in the future.
Thanks to a grant from the Governor’s Energy Office, several homes in the development built through St. Johns Housing Partnership are now retrofitted with various energy-saving devices. Monitoring over the next two years will help the partnership and SEA Inc. in St. Augustine determine which devices make the biggest difference.
“It’s a little science lab all unto itself,” said Housing Partnership Director Bill Lazar.
Hancock Place, a workforce housing development, was designed eight years ago with energy efficiency being a priority. That innovative approach to housing created a subdivision where energy efficiency and water conservation were a vital part of the plan from the beginning. Those are components normally seen in higher- end developments.
“This is the most green action I’ve ever seen in a subdivision like this,” said Joe Forest, with Power Production Management out of Gainesville, on a recent afternoon as solar panels were being put atop one roof.
That green emphasis may have helped snag the grant — the only one given out in the state.
“The government is looking at what it will take to make an existing home as close to zero energy usage as possible,” Lazar said. Hancock Place is a “sort of microcosm” of housing, he said.
Various energy-conserving options are being explored.
“We’re using different things in different homes to see what makes sense,” Lazar said. Devices such as photovoltaic panels, solar thermal panels, heat pump water heaters, solar pumps and super high-efficiency air conditioning units are being tested.
SEA Inc.’s Lowry Shuler and Scott Evanson of Shuler, Evanson and Associates Inc. are monitoring the project. The consulting firm provides cost-effective solutions for real estate and construction-related issues. They along with Lazar had been discussing questions about how to increase the energy efficiency.
“We came up with this as a way to figure it out,” Shuler said.
Lazar said it was a unique opportunity to monitor what is essentially the same house in the 32-home subdivision. Data will be collected daily, weekly and monthly for two years to determine which retrofit will work best for the consumer.
Thanks to the data logging system within the houses, homeowners also can keep up with energy consumption.
“Data readers make (people) more sensitive to what’s using the power,” Shuler said. “If they can see it costing them 5 cents a minute, they pay attention.”
Getting people involved is one way to help make them more energy-conscious, another way to increase energy efficiency.
Especially with affordable housing, energy efficiency is becoming more important, Lazar said. Homebuyers are told to figure on 30 percent of their gross income going toward the house. By making homes more energy-efficient, owners can see a savings in housing costs.
Lazar looked up at the solar panels being installed on top of one house by Power Production Management.
“It’s part of our future, especially in Florida,” he said.
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