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Aim: 10 bedrooms, 0 power bill

DUNEDIN — Developer Jeff Ricketts is building himself an almost 12,000-square-foot home at 570 Edgewater Drive.

His estimated monthly power bill: $0.

Or at least that's what Ricketts is hoping. As a "net zero energy house," the home will generate as much electricity as it consumes, he said.

To achieve this, Ricketts, 51, is putting high-quality insulation and windows in his energy-efficient house. It will also have 700 square feet of electricity-generating solar panels on the roof.

The waterfront home will be heated and cooled with a geothermal system, which uses an electric pump to transfer heat from the ground to the house in the winter and from the house to the ground the rest of the year.

The house will also feature low-voltage LED lighting, and toilets that allow you to reduce the amount of water needed for flushing, Ricketts said. Shower water will be used to flush toilets.

Ricketts said his motivation is to be both environmentally conscious and thrifty. He estimated his power bill would be closer to $1,500 per month without the modifications.

Ricketts' aim is for his new house to be certified at the platinum level, the highest level in the U.S. Green Building Coalition's LEED program, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Six homes in the state are certified by the LEED program. Only one is in Pinellas County, a 2,000-square-foot gold certified house in St. Petersburg built earlier this year by Darren Brinkley.

Brinkley, the owner of a green building consulting company called REAL building, estimates his electric bill will be about $75 a month. Unlike Ricketts, he is not using solar power.

The size of Ricketts' house could be an obstacle for LEED certification because the program has a higher threshold for bigger homes.

When asked whether it would be more eco-friendly to build a smaller house, Ricketts said his house will be made of renewable materials that can be taken down and reused.

The 10-bedroom, two-story house is meant to accommodate Ricketts' expanding family. He has six children, two of whom are getting married this year, and two grandchildren. The house is expected to be finished in September.

He would not say how much the house cost.

Despite the size of the home, Ricketts' goal of a $0 monthly power bill is entirely possible, said Joe Souza, the residential green building advocate with the U.S. Green Building Coalition's Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.

"The strategy with that is to make the house as efficient as possible and (then) determine how much (solar power) they'll use throughout the year," he said.

Building a green home doesn't cost more than building a regular home if it's planned and designed well, Brinkley said. However, using technology such as solar panels is much more expensive, he said.

Souza said more people are looking for a green home. The chapter was incorporated 3 1/2 years ago, and membership has doubled to 600 in the last 12 to 18 months.

The organization first thought builders would be leading the green trend. But owners are really driving the demand for eco-friendly homes.

Chapter president Advait Mantri said consumers are becoming more aware. Items that were once difficult to find, such as nontoxic paint, can now be easily obtained at stores such as Home Depot.

"Things that were cutting-edge before have now become mainstream," he said.

Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at (727) 445-4181 or tel-khoury@sptimes.com.

Aim: 10 bedrooms, 0 power bill 04/07/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 9:39am]
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