sohould We Go Solar
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 'Residences,' April 27, 2008

Going green in the Sunshine State

Soon after Elle Schorr and Jerry Kornbluth moved to the Florida, they learned that all that marvelous sunshine would need to be harnessed, one way or another. "Going green," the couple knew, would take a financial commitment, so they decided to become educated energy consumers.

Their first step was to conduct research. They learned the basic concepts, interpreted the lingo and established a starting point.

"We needed to determine our current energy use, then to see whether we could eliminate a meaningful portion of our energy use without changing our lifestyle," Kornbluth said.

Added Schorr: "After that, we could figure out the style and size of our new systems that would meet our reduced energy needs, and learn how much it would cost."

To determine their energy use, the couple started with their online account at Florida Power & Light Co., looking at their usage and costs for the prior 12 months.

Some energy-saving measures were already in place. Schorr and Kornbluth, for example, had changed out incandescent bulbs for fluorescent ones, and they have shade plants at various points on their property.

Here's the to-do list they came up with:

  • Reduce the amount of heat coming through windows and sliding glass doors;

  • Switch from an electric water heater to a solar-powered one;

  • Increase the efficiency of their central air conditioner;

  • Increase the amount of insulation in their attic.

    Next, they asked an FPL energy inspector to examine their home's airconditioning ducts and attic insulation and to make recommendations.

    In addition, the couple worked up estimates on costs and researched available rebates and tax credits. For solar water heaters, the state offers up to a $500 rebate. At the federal level, a 30 percent tax credit is available ($2,000 cap). At the time the couple were investigating air conditioning, FPL offered incentives ranging from $430 for a 5-ton unit rated at 13 SEER to $1,285 for a 5-ton, 17-SEER model. (FPL verified that a 5-ton unit was the right size for their home.)

    Kornbluth advises anyone contemplating going solar to verify these incentive numbers; they keep changing. On the federal level, a $300 tax credit for many Energy Star-rated central airconditioning systems is also offered.

    For attic insulation, FPL offers insulation or ductwork rebates during an Energy Survey visit. The 11 cents per square foot ($300 maximum) offered as an insulation incentive is available to homes (built before 1982) that have less than R19 insulation in their ceiling.

    Homeowners such as Schorr and Kornbluth, who live in newer homes, are required by building codes to have at least R-19 insulation. In these cases, the rebate consists of a flat $154 certificate that can be used for duct repair (which must be performed by an FPL-approved contractor).

    On the federal level, a 10 percent tax credit is available for the cost of approved solar-control window film (not the installation of the film), up to a maximum of $500. If you're unsure which, if any, rebates or incentives apply to you, Schorr advised, "Contact your tax professional to find out exactly which tax incentives you're entitled to, what documentation you'll need, what other tax implications there are, and any other questions you have."

    So far, the couple have installed a new air-conditioning system, window films and a new solar water heater. They are in the process of improving their insulation. In addition, they plan to buy new, more efficient major appliances as their older models wear out. They also are studying photovoltaics.

    Story and main photography by Christine Davis, Residences editor. Material excerpted from Schorr and Kornbluth's "Joining the Alternative-Energy Revolution: What You Can Learn From Our Personal Journey."

  • ElleJerry
    Elle Schorr and Jerry Kornbluth. Click on their photo for sidebar text.
    Click photo, above, for information on window film.


    Click photo, above, for information on air conditioning system.


    Click photo, above, for information on solar hot water system. This photo courtesy of Elle Schorr.
    The Palm Beach Post, 'Residences'' April 27, 2008