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TerraWise homes yield lifetime of savings

E-Council member David Shacter built houses the regular way when he owned Harmony Homes. Now he builds houses in a way that is earth friendly, and his new company's name reflects that change. At TerraWise, Shacter builds net-zero energy and near-net-zero energy homes.

"A net-zero energy home is still on the electrical grid," Shacter said. "It generates the amount of energy it uses. The monthly electric bill varies, but over the course of a year, the net electric bill is zero."

In Florida, photovoltaic solar panels are typically used to generate electricity. In other regions, electricity may be generated by water (hydro-generators) or by wind (wind generators).

Shacter is building two net-zero or near-net-zero homes in Springfield and one on the Westside.

"We sold the first home before we started it," he said. "Our customer had gone to the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Association and asked who was building new, energy-efficient homes in the historic neighborhood. So we had our first homebuyer before we broke ground."

Shacter said Springfield represents an eclectic, diverse and forward-thinking type of homeowner. Many are young families with a mix of artisans and professionals, racial diversity and cultural experiences looking for a home in the urban core. This population is also typically earth friendly and money conscious.

"There's no denying that the initial construction costs are higher for this type of home," he said. "The spray foam insulation, the Low-E windows with argon gas, the walls, the high-SEER HVAC systems, the solar panels it adds up. But over a relatively short period of time, those costs are recovered and the monthly savings continues."

Experts estimate the construction costs are between 5 and 10 percent higher than normal construction costs, but the payout is about 10 years. If these upgrades are financed in the mortgage, the monthly utility savings are frequently equal to or more than the extra monthly mortgage payment, so the owner has an immediate return on investment. Shacter builds in the $175,000 to $350,000 range.

"My goal in building these homes is first efficiency and second sustainability," Shacter said. "Those go hand in hand but are not interchangeable. Not only are the monthly operational costs less, but over time, maintenance and upkeep costs are less. Using a smaller tonnage air-conditioner means smaller cash outlay when it wears out. Upgraded plumbing systems means never having to pay to replace."

One of TerraWise's Liberty Street homes will be on display during the Dec. 6 holiday home tour in Springfield. Shacter says that would be a good opportunity to see the inside of a home that costs almost nothing to operate near-net zero.

The TerraWise Web site is www.terrawisehomes.com and NEFBA's E-Council is www.ecounciljax.org or e-mail to info@ecounciljax.org.

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