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West Pasco Habitat's first green home is ready

NEW PORT RICHEY — Sarah Cooke waited only a few months to move into her new Habitat home.

But people at the West Pasco Habitat for Humanity had been waiting nearly two years to see the completion of this home, their first green home.

On Saturday morning, a crowd of people gathered at Marley Road in New Port Richey to see West Pasco Habitat hand over the keys to Cooke, 35, a registered nurse and single mother of two.

"I worked my butt off on this home!" said Cooke, who had to put in volunteer hours before claiming the home, as do all recipients of Habitat homes.

After a short speech from guest speaker, state Sen. Mike Fasano, Cooke thanked the crowd.

"Thank you to each and every one of you. I know 'thank you' doesn't seem adequate, but it's the only thing I can say right now," Cooke said.

For the staff and volunteers of West Pasco Habitat, the event was the end of a long and difficult journey.

As they found out, it isn't easy going green.

Habitat for Humanity site supervisor Michael Fremlin says the board pushed for West Pasco Habitat to build its first green home, a home that would be energy-efficient and sustainable.

"I believe that's the way it should be," said Fremlin, who is the full-time site supervisor at East Pasco Habitat. He volunteered to help out at West Pasco after the original site supervisor left. Although Fremlin believes in the green building method, he says some problems arose while building that need to be addressed.

"There were problems with permits, blueprints, and parts of the planning weren't included," he said. "I think we started before we were ready."

County Commissioner Jack Mariano, who is on the board for West Pasco Habitat, says he attended events about green building that led him to believe West Pasco could begin to do it.

"It was something new, but it's the ultimate way to go," Mariano said. "The homes are energy-efficient, water-efficient and sustainable."

The first West Pasco Habitat green home used a metal panel frame, a method that is supposed to be energy-efficient as well as wind-resistant, therefore cutting insurance costs and energy bills.

However, Fremlin says the metal panel method ended up costing 10 to 15 percent more than estimated. The increased building costs result in a more expensive home, which increases the homeowner's monthly mortgage payment.

"It's more cost to the homeowner, which they will recoup in the savings on energy bills, but we don't know how long it will take," Fremlin said. "If the goal of Habitat for Humanity is to build basic, affordable housing, they need to figure out the cost issues with building green."

Fremlin points to the success Hernando Habitat for Humanity has had in building green.

"They do a lot of green homes," Fremlin said. "They use a Styrofoam block method, which costs less than the metal panels, and is easier to install."

Hernando Habitat construction supervisor Alex Quintard says the Styrofoam blocks have some advantages.

"It's not a problem for us. In fact, it's a lot easier," he said. "It's easy for volunteers to work with. It's like putting Lego blocks together."

Quintard, who was a Habitat volunteer himself before becoming construction supervisor, says building methods that are easy for volunteers save time.

Quintard says the key to Hernando Habitat's success with green building is the research the group does before making a decision.

"It's a progression," Quintard said. "We look at every house and try to make it as green as possible."

Quintard says they compared different green building methods before beginning the homes.

"When you're building homes for low-income families, every dollar spent makes a difference," Quintard said. "It's always a balancing act. We have to build the best house we can, with green principles, at a certain price point. You have to look at things, be creative."

Rich Allen, the new site supervisor for West Pasco Habitat for Humanity, agrees.

"We have to evaluate building methods, and balance the cost," said Allen, who is also on the board for West Pasco Habitat. "The industry is changing itself, and we have to stay abreast of changes. We need more education up front."

In the midst of finishing up the green home, West Pasco Habitat's executive director resigned, leaving the group without a director for a couple of months. The new director, Rebecca Russell-Gootee, who was present at the green home dedication, is hopeful about the future.

"We hope to continue building green homes," Russell-Gootee said. "I'd like to build more homes this year, and sort of see a housing blitz."

West Pasco Habitat's resource coordinator, Rick Pittenger, says the group is hoping to increase the number of homes built per year, citing East Pasco and Hernando as influences.

"We only build about one to two houses per year right now," Pittenger said. "We're hoping to make a lot of changes."

"We may have to go quasi green at first instead of fully green," Allen said. "It may be an easier transition. Going green is a long process, and we're just starting on the journey."

West Pasco Habitat's first green home is ready 12/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 6:34pm]
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