Tampa couple embraces green lifestyle with home renovations

TAMPA — In a pastel yellow home along South Elkins Avenue, the windows are tinted, LED Christmas lights hang at the entrance and a Toyota Hybrid sits in the garage.

It's all part of Dan and Christine Fisher's efforts to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. For about five years, the Fishers have been renovating their Ballast Point house to improve its energy efficiency.

Their goal: reaching net-zero, the point at which their home is using no more energy than it's creating.

"We're trying to minimize our carbon footprint," Dan said.

The Fishers got closer to reaching net-zero in December after completing the installation of 32 solar panels on the roof of their two-story home.

They are among a small but growing trend of people converting to solar. The technology, known for its energy efficiency, converts the sun's rays into electricity and heated water.

Power companies have noticed an uptick in solar customers. Tampa Electric reported 310 solar customers this year compared to only four in 2006. Progress Energy, which services 35 counties in Florida, including Pinellas, noted a similar rise. More than 200 customers serviced by the company statewide have gone solar.

For the Fishers, the journey to green living was launched in Naples, Italy, where Dan was stationed as a U.S. Navy officer for two years. Recycling was mandatory and residents were encouraged to hang clothes outside instead of tossing them in the dryer.

"If you threw anything out that was recyclable," Christine, 43, said, "you got fined."

In 2007, they moved back to Tampa to the four-bedroom, three-bath home they purchased before moving abroad.

But the couple soon realized the house was "one big carbon footprint," Dan said. "The size of Big Foot."

The kitchen appliances were outdated. Carpeting, known for releasing carbon emissions, covered all the floors.

Then the electric bills arrived. On a good month, it was $400.

While renovating the kitchen, they decided to make the slow switch to green.

"For me, it was mostly the bills," Dan said. "For Christine, it was about getting this house to be environmentally friendly, a place to live."

First came the Energy Star appliances. Most of the carpeting was ripped out and replaced with tile and bamboo flooring. Eco-friendly paint was used inside. Solar window films were installed to keep out the sun's heat.

Then came the larger projects: adding attic insulation and installing an energy-efficient AC unit. "The Energy Detective," a monitor that measures the home's electricity usage in real-time, sits on a small table in the living room.

Even the toilets are "green," giving the option of a "full flush" or "half flush" to save hundreds of gallons of water a year. During visits to their home, guests sometimes ask how to flush the toilet.

Living green isn't cheap. The Fishers estimate they've spent more than $60,000 in renovations. But in the long run, they said, the savings add up. Their electric bill is down to about $120 a month and may dip even lower with the solar panels.

Dan, 52, keeps a checklist on his iPhone of all the things left to do in the house. Only a few remain, including tearing out any remaining carpet and installing a battery system to the solar panels for use as a backup generator.

Green living goes beyond their home.

The Fishers sometimes chat with neighbors about the benefits of green living.

Christine recently heard the clanging of bottles, which are recyclable, coming from the plastic bag a neighbor had tossed in the garbage container outside.

"My wife just shudders," Dan said. "It's a little frustration. We're not pushy to our neighbors, but we inform."

Dan and Christine, along with a friend, created the Tampa Bay Green Consortium, a group that organizes conservation events.

They also participate in several community projects, including Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

"We're just trying to reach people," Christine said. "If we're going to preach it, we might as well do it."

Laura C. Morel can be reached at (813)226-3386, or lmorel@tampabay.com.

Tampa couple embraces green lifestyle with home renovations 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 9:00pm]

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