Tampa green building part of Habitat for Humanity plans

Tampa green building part of Habitat for Humanity plans

by Mike Walker

In September 2003, while hurricanes battered coastal Florida, a strong storm toppled an oak tree into Karen and Tyrus Richardson's roof, creating a foot-wide hole. The family spent hundreds of dollars on temporary repairs to their Lakeland home, but rain water continued to seep through their roof, and neither they nor their landlord could afford to fix it. That's when the Lakeland Habitat For Humanity staff stepped in to help, promising the family a new - and energy efficient - home.

The Richardsons' new three-bedroom home, completed in December 2007, is equipped with energy-efficient appliances, compact fluorescent lightbulbs and ceiling fans, which keep the utility bills down each month. Volunteers also increased efficiency by sealing the attic and the home's wiring. During construction, workers kept the trees on the property and replanted the grass they removed. They also recycled all of the leftover construction materials. "We're just overwhelmed about all of this," Tyrus says. "We're saving on the electric and water bill. We're saving all around."

Habitat of Lakeland follows similar green guidelines on all of its projects. "In my opinion, it's always been really pointless to have a low-cost home but then not be able to afford the utilities," says Habitat executive director Claire Twomey.

For the first time, however, the nonprofit group is going a step further, seeking LEED for Homes certification for the Richardsons' home. It is expected to be the first home in Polk County to receive the credential.

Eric Martin, a LEED provider with Florida Solar Energy Center, says he hopes the Habitat home will earn a silver rating this spring. Only a handful of projects in Florida have been LEED certified, including a 2,000-square-foot home in St. Petersburg built by REAL Building's Darren Brinkley that recently earned the first gold LEED rating in the state. But roughly 300 more homes have registered to go through the process. "[LEED for Homes is] growing, and it's growing pretty rapidly," Martin says.

Like many providers, Martin believes LEED will spread when the public gains knowledge of its benefits. The Richardsons already have. Last December, they spent their first Christmas in their new home. "It was really beautiful," Tyrus says. "We're not used to having central heating and air; it was nice to have it for the first time."

The family says their standard of living has increased, too. Early this year, they bought a second vehicle, a 1998 Dodge Dakota, with money they normally would have had to devote to utilities.

"The international Habitat is asking all affiliates to build efficiently," Twomey says. "So hopefully LEED will take off. I don't think it's such a bad thing to be a tree hugger."

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