PALM HARBOR — Imagine a day when power bills are a thing of the past. The image, no doubt, is priceless.
But is it possible?
"It's real. It's here. It's possible. And we have the ability to do it today," said Alfonso Castaneira, a film producer from Safety Harbor. Castaneira recently partnered with Marc Rutenberg, president of Marc Rutenberg Homes in Tarpon Springs, to form Zero Energy America.
To prove this point, Mark Rutenberg Homes will build its first Zero Energy America Home inside the upscale Hawks Landing subdivision in Palm Harbor.
The partners hope the home will ignite a green revolution in the home-building industry and expect the building to be complete in a year.
"As much as I love our industry, it's archaic," Rutenberg said. "We build from familiarity; instead we should be promoting environmental stewardship."
Friday, a free kickoff celebration will be held at the home site, 2712 Deer Track Way.
Instead of the traditional gold shovels for the groundbreaking, organizers will celebrate by pouring part of the foundation, using a low carbon footprint cement manufactured by a Florida company called Blue World Crete.
The Friday affair features an interactive trade show with 20 vendors showcasing their energy-conscious products, many of which will be used in the 4,500-square-foot Mediterranean-style model home.
• Wall blocks made from autoclaved aerated concrete, said to be up to four times lighter than traditional concrete and practically indestructible by fire or wind. A torch will be used to prove the point.
• Demonstrations of the superior heating performance of a stove top that uses electromagnetic induction technology.
• On-demand solar water heaters.
• Stylish tile roofing materials that reflect heat and stay cool, even in summer.
• The latest in low-energy LED lighting.
• Photovoltaic solar panels for the production of electricity to power the entire house. The zero-energy home is expected to generate more kilowatt hours than it will consume, Rutenberg said, bringing the net operating cost to zero.
• Paperless drywall that prevents mold and mildew.
"One of my favorite products is the reclaimed river logs that are 80 to 100 years old," Rutenberg said. "They were found in the bottom of river beds and are made of heart of pine, cherry and cypress. They'll be used in flooring and cabinetry."
One thing buyers won't find once the home is built: granite countertops or travertine floors.
"I love the beauty of natural stone, but mining granite is one of the most environmentally damaging operations we do today," Rutenberg said. He is in the process of looking for alternatives that are equally attractive but won't harm the planet.
Mark Rutenberg Homes received a $2.1 million grant from the state to help create the Zero Energy America project and to take on the challenge of building zero-energy homes. The project will help educate a national audience through a two-hour documentary about the home and products used to build it.
The documentary will be produced by Bluewater Media, distributed by American Public Television and shown on hundreds of PBS stations sometime in the future, Castaneira said.
The partners said the home will likely have a price tag of $1 million or more, but emphasized that extreme energy efficiency can be obtained across the spectrum of housing design.
"It usually adds a 10 to 15 percent premium to the price of a home, but it will pay for itself in energy savings," Castaneira said. "And we can all retrofit our existing homes too. There are 120 million homes already built in America."
He said with the oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and climatic changes, the push for homes powered by renewable energy is urgent.
"Our homes and buildings are responsible for 48 percent of greenhouse gases and pollution," Castaneira said. "Cars only produce 12 percent."