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'Net-zero' homes save residents money on their electric bills

One local company claims it's helping residents save money on their energy bills with its "net-zero" homes that are popping up across the city, including in neighborhoods like Springfield and Cedarbrook.

TerraWise Homes specializes in building energy efficient homes, described to be "net-zero" homes.

David Shacter, the CEO of TerraWise says the goal in their 40 to 50 homes built locally is sustainability.

"We kind of just fell into it, [my wife and I] were trying to make our house more energy efficient and we started getting more and more interested in doing that," he said. "When we started this company we started with the goal of building the most energy efficient homes in Jacksonville, it's not a new concept...but it wasn't being built here."

During a tour of a model home, Schacter showed First Coast News how their brand earned its green status. A primary feature is air-tight insulation, provided by spray foam for the attic, thicker walls, and fiberglass doors.

The homes also use a heat pump water heater, Schacter explained, that extracts heat from the air using less energy that normal. Equipped with LED light bulbs throughout the house, ENERGY STAR approved appliances, the homes require fewer solar panels to fuel the home.

"We use better windows, the doors are fiberglass doors, better than a steel door for insulation value," he said. "A lot of homes, when you have heat and humidity coming off the stove top, it's throwing back in the room. Energy Star homes require [the heat] to be ducted to the outside. We build our homes to use half the electricity [typically used]."

Margaret Conner, a TerraWise homeowner for over a year said her electric bills are usually less than $20 on average.

In her 2,100 square foot home, some months she owes JEA the flat rates for service charges and fuel charges. Other months, she said she gets money credited back from JEA for the extra solar power generated by the panels.

As of July 2017, 1,049 people were signed up for JEA's net metering program which allows a solar panel owner to sell JEA any extra energy not used by the home. This was over double the number of customers signed up in 2016. However in October 2017, the incentives to sell energy saw a 70 percent cut in how much JEA will now pay. The utility company, rather, added incentives for homeowners to store their own extra energy in batteries.

Jacksonville Business Journal: JEA shakes up solar policies

Shacter estimates solar panels on his homes cost an additional $12,000 to $25,000 which can be added to the overall mortgage.

"I encourage anyone who can afford to add that do their renovation or building to think about it because eventually, we'll break even on what we've put into it," Conner said.

TerraWise homeowners also receive energy trackers through Enphase and can watch in real-time how much carbon and plant life each is saved through efficient living.

"It shows pictures of all the little trees you save," Conner said. "It's kind of fun to see that and know you really are contributing to something."

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