Thursday, April 19, 2018
Business

South Tampa solar-powered home is model of efficiency

Dan Fisher considers himself a geek.

He is, after all, an information technology scientist who might fit in with the cast of the Big Bang Theory.

Even so, Fisher says it doesn't take a computer whiz or rocket scientist to cut a residential electric bill that has reached $500 a month to as little as $17. That, in fact, is what he and his wife, Christine, have accomplished with modifications to their home in South Tampa.

In the past five years, they converted their now 20-year-old, 3,000-square-foot house from a drafty "energy hog" to an ultraefficient home. They have decked it out with solar panels, a solar water heater, solar-powered sprinkler system, LED bulbs, energy-efficient appliances and hurricane-rated windows with solar film.

His one caution: "Baby steps. If someone wants to do this, just take baby steps."

That's how Fisher began, a little at a time.

He is one of just 80 Tampa Electric residential customers who consistently operate at "net zero" levels. That means the electricity supplied by the power company is less than or equal to what the home's solar panels produce. The utility has 685,000 customers.

Before they went solar, the Fishers began with a less-costly improvement: They installed new attic insulation.

"That's a good place to begin," said Fisher, 53. "That's an easy fix."

They added solar window film to their existing windows, which can block out 60 to 80 percent of the radiant heat, decreasing the amount of cooling needed for the house. And they replaced the drafty front door with one that helped make the house more airtight.

When it came time to replace the water heater, the Fishers picked a solar-powered model, which removed one of their home's biggest energy users.

"Solar hot water has always been the low-hanging fruit," says Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "People pay a significant amount of their electric bill to heat water."

Glickman says solar water heaters range from about $4,000 to $9,000 — more than 10 times the cost of a standard unit. But homeowners typically can recoup that investment in four to six years in electric bill savings.

As other appliances needed replacing, the Fishers bought Energy Star high-efficiency units.

"In the long run, it will save you money," Fisher said.

Fisher saw his electric bill steadily decline and was inspired to look for more ways to save.

He replaced all of his lightbulbs with new LEDs, which last 25 to 50 times longer than conventional bulbs, do not produce heat and require less energy. LEDs are pricey, about $8 to $40 each.

Then projects got bigger.

Fisher bought new double-paned, hurricane-rated windows and covered them with solar window film. Finally, earlier this year, his largest investment: an 8-kilowatt solar array atop his roof.

Scott McIntyre, president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, says the net cost for such a system these days with federal tax credits would run about $18,200. With rebates from utility companies, homeowners can cut that in half.

"We call it the path to zero," says McIntyre, who also runs a company called Solar Energy Management.

A retired Navy officer who now works as an IT scientist for the U.S. Central Command, Fisher uses the geek in him to track all his work with electronic meter devices around his home, apps on his smartphone and spreadsheets on his computer.

The stocky, graying technology maven watches them tick off how much electricity is costing him. One of his meters flashes 2 cents an hour, sometimes zero.

On a recent 92-degree afternoon, the meter said the Fishers owed Tampa Electric 38 cents that day.

"It's been like a challenge for me to do this," said Fisher, with a bit of a childlike grin. "I like the challenge as a technical guy."

The one thing the Fisher home doesn't do is look noticeably like a work of extreme efficiency.

But the Fishers carefully chose emission-free and recyclable materials that may also reduce heat, including tile and bamboo flooring as well as wall paint that does not contain unhealthy chemicals known as volatile organic compounds.

"We wanted this house to look like a house and not like an experiment," said Fisher, who heads the Tampa Bay Green Consortium.

The total investment in their home: about $60,000. Fisher anticipates it will take him seven to nine years to recoup his investment.

And to Fisher, it's worth every penny: "It's green. It's healthy. It's energy-efficient."

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

     
Comments
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18
St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

ST. PETERSBURG — Beef jerky, mayonnaise and Altoids mints were the only edible things in view inside one of the houses. There was no running water. The refrigerator was empty. A bed sat on top of the deteriorating living room floor. Cigarette butts b...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

TAMPA — At the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, hotelier Ian Schrager transformed a Jazz Age building with its own rich history into a destination offering even more heady experiences — extravagant, edgy and bohemian.In Tampa, Schrager will have...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Here’s your first look at what will be Riverwalk Place, Tampa’s tallest tower

Here’s your first look at what will be Riverwalk Place, Tampa’s tallest tower

TAMPA — Developers on Thursday detailed plans for what they touted as the tallest building on Florida’s west coast, with condominiums priced in six and seven figures and a shimmering glass design they say would stand out in the skylines of New York, ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

ST. PETERSBURG — Development of the city’s long-awaited pier advanced another step Thursday.The City Council approved a $15 million construction contract and additional money to design a waterside restaurant, build a playground and ferret out naming ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Those who use mass transit across the Tampa Bay area can ride for free on Sunday.To celebrate Earth Day, both the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will be offering free rides on Su...
Published: 04/19/18
Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Federal regulators are poised to impose a $1 billion penalty on Wells Fargo for a number of alleged misdeeds, including forcing customers to buy auto insurance policies that they didn’t need, according to people briefed on the regulatory action. The ...
Published: 04/19/18
Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

CLEARWATER — A longtime IBM executive is becoming the new leader of Tampa Bay’s largest public company. Tech Data on Thursday named Richard "Rich" Hume as its new CEO effective June 6. Hume joined Tech Data two years ago and is currently the chief op...
Published: 04/19/18
LA Fitness tones up Hillsborough location

LA Fitness tones up Hillsborough location

When LA Fitness on West Hillsborough Ave. reopens mid-summer, it will have undergone a $5 million renovation and a complete transformation. Closed since November 2017, the 10-year-old facility was completely torn down and is still undergoing construc...
Published: 04/19/18
Kids have fun and gain coding skills at Code Ninja in Westchase

Kids have fun and gain coding skills at Code Ninja in Westchase

A new program that teaches coding to kids is coming to the Tampa Bay area. Code Ninjas is a Houston-based franchise that is opening its first location in Westchase in early May. There are plans for other centers in Carrollwood, South Tampa, New Tampa...
Published: 04/19/18