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Dunedin looks at net-zero energy housing
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DUNEDIN – Affordable, green, net-zero energy housing is on its way to Dunedin. The Dunedin City Commission unanimously approved 4-0 the initial architectural renderings for the Lorraine Leland housing initiative on Nov. 15, but the official approval is set for the meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6.

“In 2007, as part of an affordable housing initiative, the city of Dunedin began working with the Dunedin Housing Authority and the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County on developing the Lorraine Leland tract for affordable townhomes,” according to a memo to the commission from City Manager Rob DiSpirito.

Through a Request for Proposal process, Planet Green Group was chosen by the county and the city to develop the project, also called Eco Village.

The homes will be townhouses in a cracker hybrid style on the outside, with large porches, overhanging roofs with eaves, according to a presentation by Planet Green Group. The porches on the units will be varied in design, giving the subdivision a varied, unique look. The garages will be on the backside of the building, which add to the aesthetics. The units will vary in size from two-bedroom units about 1,000 square feet, to three-bedroom units at 1,200- and 1,500-square-feet. The bedrooms will be upstairs. They are an open floor plan and they are estimated to range in cost from just under $140,000 to the $180,000s, according to the presentation.

Not only will the homes be affordable to buy, they will get continued savings because they will be affordable to maintain. This is achieved through numerous methods, including making them net-zero energy efficient.

“The home produces more energy throughout the year than it uses,” said Paavo Salmi, CEO of Planet Green Group, LLC. “… And that gives you the ability to not have an electric bill.”

There are many techniques and elements that will help make the homes this way. For instance, they will have low-E windows and doors, a solar water heater, LED lighting, nucleus energy management by GE, and it will even be ready for a Smart Grid, and it can have an area in the garage which will allow the homeowner to power the home through their car in an emergency, Salmi said.

But as important as energy efficiency is to the project, that is only one of the key aspects considered in their design.

“This is not only energy efficient but we feel that there are a few other elements in introducing affordable housing not only in the city of Dunedin but we feel all the homes should be built like,” Salmi said.

These elements are safety, healthy living environment, latest technology, construction, and affordability. All of these affect the cost of ownership, making it truly affordable in both the short- and the long-term and also make highly desirable houses, the presenter said.

Safety is of utmost importance to Planet Green Group. The homes will be able to stand up to at least 250-mile-per-hour winds, they have impenetrable walls, high-impact glass windows, the highest possible fire and hail ratings, and even a D2 earthquake rating. This gives it the gold-level, highest level safety rating on the homes, which results in a 50- to 60-percent discount on one’s homeowner’s insurance, Salmi said. This translates into about $450- to $500-a-year savings on insurance, he said.

It is also important to the developers to build healthy homes, the presenter said. Therefore, they will use non-VOC paints, non-toxic flooring, a whole-house water filter, a UV light system, and the house is also termite-free and mold resistant, he said.

Planet Green Group also prides itself on using the latest technology and a whole-house system approach. Even the way the home is built structurally adds to its affordability and strength, including its foundation and walls techniques. There also will be a special elastomer coating on the walls with a lifetime warranty so the walls will never crack and the homeowner will never have to paint the outer walls.

The stone-coated metal roofs also have a lifetime warranty, so the owner will never have to replace them. They also come in four classic profiles and in 80 colors, are lightweight, energy efficient and have extremely high fire, hail and wind safety ratings, the presenter said.

When all of these elements are put together and lifetime expenses are considered, Salmi said, it makes the homes extremely affordable.

“It means that these homes are going to save the homeowner $200 a month alone,” Salmi said. “What that means is that it’s the same (equivalent) of a $45,000 mortgage. So basically, this homeowner is going to save each month and could put those savings towards their principal, so you could pay your home off in instead of 30 years, you could in 20 years.”

To buy one of these homes, the homeowner must have a household income level of 80 percent of the area median income. For the two-bedroom, $139,900 units, the new owner would have to pay $4,900 down but would have a $6,000 tax credit to do so, due to the solar elements in the home, Salmi said. Therefore they would get more money back than they have to use as a down payment, he said. They would then have to pay $659 a month for principal and interest, making it a total of $818 a month including the taxes and insurance.

The commission was happy and excited about the project.

“I think it’s a terrific project and we have been talking about this (project) for a long time,” said Commissioner Julie Scales. “… I think the city started talking about affordable housing in that area in the 1950s, and if you read the newspaper articles back then, it was a really deplorable situation. And of course the Lorraine Leland housing project was there and basically it was both physically outliving its useful life, and conceptually, it was no longer what people would think of as adequate housing. And it took 60 years to play out but I think this is great and I commend you for coming up with what looks like an extremely attractive product with energy efficiency and savings and safety and all of those things that you mentioned. It’s just terrific. And especially when hurricanes come, the most vulnerable homes are often the low-income properties and it’s just great that we’re thinking about everyone being safe and secure.”

Commissioner Ron Barnette said that he is excited to have this first-of-its-kind type of project making its debut in Dunedin. The city has always been a trailblazer, and he is proud to set another example with innovative ideas and projects.

Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski agreed, and added that the new renderings also look like stylistically, the homes will fit in well in the community.

The commission voted 4-0 to proceed, approving the conceptual design of the project. Commissioner Dave Carson was absent.
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