This Earth Day, Manatee County Habitat for Humanity looks to encourage more ‘green’ homes

Cheryl Roth, a Manatee County Habitat for Humanity homeowner, describes living in a sustainable home as heaven.

Since July 2012, Roth, 56, and Terrill Symons, 69, have called the Hope Landing neighborhood in Ellenton home. Their house, which has solar panels on the roof as well as solar hot water, was the first residential home in Manatee County to receive the United States Green Build Council’s LEED Platinum certification.

“You are not house poor,” Roth said on a recent afternoon. “You are not spending all your money on your home. It’s energy efficient. It’s cost efficient. It doesn’t make you go crazy. There are a lot less things to worry about.”

Roth and Symons’ experience living in one of Habitat’s 25 sustainable homes in Manatee is something the nonprofit wants to highlight this Earth Day, April 22. For these families, expenses such as electricity are lower thanks to the sustainable homes.

“These people don’t have disposable income to put aside for maintenance of home,” said Bruce Winter, Manatee County Habitat for Humanity director of construction. “If we can do it for a low-income family, why isn’t it being done for everyone?”

While the extra materials to build a sustainable home may be a little more costly, the savings on electricity alone is $48 per month, according to Winter.

“We invite everyone in the community to come do it,” he said.

Sustainable, or “green,” building is constructing homes that are “efficient and durable, that use less resources, are healthy to live in and are affordable,” Habitat for Humanity materials state.

“The benefits of green homes for Habitat homeowners are many, and include saving money on utilities, hurricane protection and improve air quality,” the materials state.

Prior to living in their Habitat home, Roth and Symons were living in a trailer park in Palmetto where the electricity bill was $110 a month. Now, the monthly electricity bill averages $30.

“It’s just a gift from God,” Roth said. “I’m not real religious, but you saw God opened up doors to get in here.”

Symons regularly logs onto his laptop to check how efficiently the solar panels are working. Being green is not something new for him, as 30 years ago he put a solar panel on a school bus in California.

“I’ve been interested in this my whole life,” he said. “I’m into it. I believe in it. I vote for it.”

Manatee County Habitat for Humanity executive director Diana Shoemaker said she thinks they have a successful model for building affordable homes.

“It’s going to help our homeowner, but it’s going to help county with longevity of houses,” she said. “I think it is really about the outcome. This is an outcome that changes quality of life for community. We are hoping we are creating a model that really sustains itself in the community. We are getting good feedback on what we are doing.”

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson