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Hamptons Life

Oct 1, 2009 3:05 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

National Solar Tour showcases range of possibilities for green homes

Oct 1, 2009 3:05 PM

The measure of a good home should have nothing to do with comparing to the other houses that surround it, according to Sag Harbor-based architect Laszlo Kiss. Instead, designing a good home should be an insular process, taking into consideration the needs of the person who owns it in a way that will work with, instead of against, the environment surrounding the structure.

But if a passerby were so inclined to compare Mr. Kiss’s energy-efficient home to that of its neighbors, or even other homes on this year’s “National Solar Tour,” that person couldn’t help but notice the distinct differences. This is the second year in a row that Mr. Kiss’s home will be on the tour—sponsored by Renewable Energy Long Island and the Long Island Power Authority—which opens green buildings up for public viewing.

With its sharp lines and simple geometric features, Mr. Kiss’s house might be one of the more dramatic-looking houses on the “National Solar Tour,” but it’s certainly not the only East End residence which will be on view during the sixth annual tour, planned for Saturday, October 3, and including 90 Long Island structures from Far Rockaway to Montauk. Locally, approximately eight homes on the tour are in East Hampton Town and five are in Southampton Town.

Mr. Kiss’s 2,500-square-foot house was built two years ago and was the first modular home designed by his Sag Harbor-based architectural firm, ASAP House, Inc.

From the front, the modular house is essentially a large, moss-green rectangle sitting inside a cage of bright red wood. A porch runs the length of the house and five pillars and crossbeams hold a flat, translucent roof about a foot above the structure. The small L-shaped windows that frame the front door show no indication of the floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors that are almost the whole length of the back wall of the house.

Brought to the site prefabricated in three modules and put together in under three months, Mr. Kiss’s house is the most typically modern-looking version of sustainable homes on the solar tour. It incorporates photovoltaic solar panels (PV panels), solar pool heating, geothermal heating within the house and daylighting technology, which provides enough natural light so that the Kiss family rarely has to flip on the light switch.

One of the main goals of the “National Solar Tour” is to educate consumers that there’s no one way a green home should look, according to Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. The tour aims to show visitors that any house and any budget can incorporate solar panels and other sustainable practices such as energy-efficient appliances.

“The people that go on the tour come from all walks of life but so do the tour hosts,” Mr. Raacke said. “There are some very simple working-class, middle-class homes, there are ranches and then there are high-end homes that are pretty stunning, million-dollar homes that decided to go green as well.”

Tina Guglielmo, who had solar panels installed on her 960-square-foot East Hampton home in March 2008, said during a walk-through of her house last week that she wanted to be a part of the tour so that people would know solar panels are an option for everyone. She added she also wanted to use her home, which was built in 1988, as an example that any home can be energy-efficient.

Ms. Guglielmo said she has always been interested in environmental issues and that she used to work for an environmental advocacy group. She said the research she did there fueled her interest in installing solar panels on her own home.

But it was a battle at first for Ms. Guglielmo to convince her husband, Michael, to invest in the $30,000 system, which, even after rebates, would require the family to take out $9,000 in loans from the bank.

“We’re a middle-income family,” she said. “We just never had thousands of dollars sitting around.”

But eventually, after attending a solar seminar, Ms. Guglielmo said she found a way to both appease her desire to be more sustainable and quell her husband’s concerns.

“I realized we could do it without adding an extra bill,” she said. “That’s how I convinced him. We just pay the bank $110 toward the loan every month ... The same amount we were paying LIPA for electric every month. We just replaced it.”

Ms. Guglielmo said she and her husband expect to pay off the PV system in 10 years and will still have at least 15 years on the life expectancy of the panels.

“That’s 15 years of free electricity,” she said. “It pays for itself. If we remodeled our kitchen or finished our basement, those things wouldn’t pay for themselves.”

Mr. Raacke said that it’s satisfied homeowners like Ms. Guglielmo, whose energy bill is now $5.60 a month, who make the tour a success.

“The tour is a very powerful outreach and education tool,” he said. “Hearing this from a salesperson, a vendor or an advocate is one thing but hearing it and seeing it at a home and talking directly to a homeowner is another. They have no hidden agenda and they are living proof that solar works.”

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