Neighborhood Becomes an Energy Science Project

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by Jessica Clark, Reporter
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — “The idea is we have a little science experiment here,” said Bill Lazar.

That’s how the Executive Director for the St. Johns Housing Partnership explained the project going on at Hancock Place in West Augustine.

“We want to figure out what is the most cost effective way to reduce your utility bill,” Lazar added.

 Twenty houses — which are all the same shape and size — are getting different energy-saving devices.

 Within the past couple of weeks, some houses have been retro-fitted with photovoltaic panels “which generate electricity from being in the sun” Lazar noted.

 Some homes got different kinds of energy-saving hot water heaters and others are even getting simple things such as more efficient air conditioning units.

 “We’ve set up data logging systems,” Lazar explained. “We’ll monitor the electric usage on a daily basis for the next two years to see what really makes sense.”

 For example, a standard hot water heater dons a sticker from the manufacturer, which says the yearly average operating cost is $508. A heat pump water heater displays a manufacturer sticker claiming to only cost the user $198 a year. The experiment aims to see if those numbers are right.

 The Florida Office of Energy, which is within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is paying for the two-year project through a $460,000 grant.

 “As far as I know, it’s the first in the state,” Lazar said.

 Victor Lorenzo is one of the homeowners participating in the project.

 “I’m trying to make ends meet like everyone else,” he said. He has a wife and three children he’s just fine being a part of this science experiment.

 “I’m excited about it,” Lorenzo projected. “Anything that will save you money, you gotta be excited about it!”

 “Occasionally, you see people talking about building zero energy homes. Usually, it’s for much larger homes,” Lazar noted.

 So he’s interested to see the data from these houses, which are 1,300-square-foot homes in a working class neighborhood.

 He shrugged and said, “The recommendation may be there’s more efficient ways to get zero energy or low energy homes than buying photovoltaic panels. But until you put it into practice, we don’t know. And with the logging data, we will know.”

 Once the project is complete, that data will be public record, Lazar added.  He expects it will help any homeowner, and agencies like the St. Johns Housing Partnership, know what devices really work and “make sense.”

 For now, the neighborhood is a hotbed of silent activity — in the name of science and savings.

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