Letting the sun shine in: Habitat for Humanity neighborhood gets solar panels

2014-05-15 | Kitsap Sun

May 14--PORT ORCHARD -- A Habitat for Humanity self-help program will make Marco Gamez's house affordable to build. The solar panels on the roof will help keep it affordable to live in.

Like all 32 homes planned in the Harris Court development in Port Orchard, Gamez's house will be equipped with a 2.25 kilowatt photovoltaic array. The panels are expected to produce enough energy to offset most of the homes' power bills, keeping the cost of ownership low.

Other Habitat for Humanity projects have experimented with solar. Harris Court will be among the first full-scale Habitat neighborhoods in the country equipped with panels, said Daryl Daugs, director of Habitat for Humanity of Kitsap County. It also will be the largest community of single-family homes in Washington to integrate solar systems into every home.

"This is the test case," Daugs said.

For Gamez, 33, the solar panels only add excitement to the prospect of providing a permanent home for his young family of five.

"It's really something I didn't think would happen this soon," Gamez said Saturday, at the Harris Court construction site near Bethel Junction. "Having a house that will be long term for us is really like a dream come true."

Washington solar companies Itek Energy and SunModo donated the panels and racks to Habitat for Humanity through the Go Solar South Kitsap Project, which promotes solar use in the area. For each homeowner and business that signs a contract for a solar array, the companies donate an array to the Harris Court development. Inverters were provided by Poulsbo-based Blue Frog Solar, and Sunergy Systems helped with design. Donations of solar equipment and installation training for Harris Court will total more than $300,000.

The arrays will be tied into the power grid, and homeowners will get a credit for the electricity generated by the panels. Daugs said solar systems make sense for Habitat homes, "not just because it's good for the earth, but because it makes long-term affordable housing."

Habitat provides homes for low-income families through a self-help program. Owners work on their own houses and their neighbors' homes, alongside a team of volunteers. Once the home is complete, the owner pays on a no-interest mortgage.

Harris Court houses will be constructed over the next two to three years. Daugs hopes up to 10 can be framed and enclosed by the end of summer.

The neighborhood will include a mix of homes with three to five bedrooms. Floor plans range up to 1,600 square feet. The homes are already designed with energy efficiency in mind, Daugs said. Each incorporates radiant heating under tile floors. Outside, fruit trees will fill common areas and dot backyards.

"All the vegetation in the community areas will be edible," Daugs said.

Construction on the first two houses was well underway Saturday. A swarm of volunteers nailed on siding and painted trim, while a small crew secured the solar panels on Gamez's home.

Habitat for Humanity of Kitsap is already searching for its next building site. Future developments probably will include solar, whether panels are donated or not, Daugs said.

"This is working so well that we plan to continue it on into the foreseeable future," he said.

For details on the Go Solar program, go to www.gosolarwashington.com. For information on Habitat For Humanity of Kitsap, go to www.kitsaphabitat.org.

WCIC is the United Voice of the Construction Industry in Washington State.