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Marc Rutenberg unveils zero-energy home and plans for eco-village in East Lake

Published Nov. 30, 2012

EAST LAKE — As power bills continue to soar, home builder Marc Rutenberg is doling out some advice: "Don't get mad at the power company — get even."

And he's showing the world how to do it with the debut of his first Zero Energy America home, a 4,500-square-foot Mediterranean-style model of healthy and sustainable living, located inside the Hawks Landing subdivision in East Lake.

"It's probably the most energy-efficient luxury home in the Tampa Bay area," said Drew Smith, president of Two Trails, a green building consulting firm in Sarasota. He was at the house Thursday during a media preview tour.

Built by Marc Rutenberg Homes, the Castaway III is not only drop-dead gorgeous, it's smart and powerful, too. It produces its own energy, shuts down power-consuming devices when not needed, and provides feedback to the homeowner in real time.

Rutenberg said the house was built to be structurally "tight," so it wouldn't leak energy, then loaded with cutting-edge, eco-friendly products and materials.

"It only uses 38 percent of the electricity of a standard code-compliant home," he said. "The goal here was to use zero energy and have it be as beautiful and healthy as possible."

Rutenberg called the home, priced at $1.6 million, his "laboratory."

Three years ago, he began working on the Zero Energy America initiative. He and daughter Ashley consulted with top energy experts in the field of net zero energy and green construction, researched hundreds of products and ideas, and handpicked those that met the criteria of being "extremely green."

Then they put them under one big, energy-efficient, clay tile roof.

The son of Florida home builder Charles Rutenberg, Marc Rutenberg created his own niche by building conventional luxury homes that were highly customized. Now he said it's time to scrap current practices in the home building industry and start over.

"It's all about fixing the Great American Screw-up," he said.

He's planning on doing just that, and, at a more affordable level.

Two weeks ago, he bought land for the first Zero Energy America Village, a prototype community just south of the Pinellas-Pasco border on East Lake Road.

The project will feature 1,600- to 1,800-square-foot homes with a target price of $250,000.

"They will be amazingly healthy, totally green, and the homeowner will have no electric bills," said Rutenberg. "The village will be the proudest moment of our company to date."

In the meantime, anyone who is curious can stop by the "laboratory" home in East Lake and see how it has won numerous elite energy certifications.

The home features:

• Aurora LED lighting in the ceilings, cabinetry, nooks and crannies. Although initially more expensive, LED lights are cooler, longer lasting and cost less to operate. A company spokesperson said the bulbs will usually last about 40,000 hours or 10 to 15 years.

• An LG heating and air-conditioning system featuring one compressor and five indoor zones.

• 60 LG solar panels facing south and west generating enough electricity to turn the electric meter backward.

• A fireplace fueled by ethanol

• An AET solar water heater with an electric backup for cloudy days

• An Eaton Electric Vehicle Charger to power the car; a 2013 Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid is featured in the garage

• A foundation made of low-carbon footprint cement by Blue World Crete

• Lafarge synthetic gypsum drywall (recycled rather than mined)

• Hebel Aerated Autoclaved Concrete block walls

• Goodwin's wood treatments recovered from old river logs

• Kohler high-efficiency faucets, toilets and fixtures

• Schluter shower systems for mildew-free showers

• Oceanside Glasstile made from recycled glass

• Mohawk Portico carpet made from recycled plastic bottles

• Boral clay roofing and pavers

• A Hunter irrigation system that senses environmental conditions and adjusts the amount of water output accordingly

• PGT Energy Star windows

• Panasonic vent systems designed to keep the air healthy

• Countertops made from concrete and recycled materials

• Linear efficient and quiet garage door openers

• Teragren bamboo floors, a rapidly renewable resource

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

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