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Solar Water Heater Cools Energy Costs

Progress Energy is paying to install 10 solar water heaters in Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County homes in Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg.

It was a great day for the sun.

The bright, fiery ball of sunshine was out, very out, as crews installed a solar thermal heating system atop a house being built by Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County on Tuesday morning.

It sits about 3 feet wide and 5 feet long and is about 5 inches in depth. The giant pizza box on the top of the roof is going to be a money saver, though.

The plan is to put three more of the solar devices in homes in the Clearwater development. They also will be installed in homes being built in Largo and St. Petersburg.

And Progress Energy is footing the bill for it all. It is part of an effort to install 30 of the devices in a few counties the energy provider serves throughout the state.

But other customers interested in solar water heating can get help from the energy provider, as well. Progress Energy offers a $550 rebate to homeowners who install solar water heating units. This does help defray some of the nearly $4,000 cost.

The nearly 10 percent savings on the electric bill also helps, said Suzanne Grant, spokeswoman for Progress Energy.

“We want energy to be used wisely,” Grant said. “All of these things add up to a lot of energy savings.”

Special piping from the solar unit atop the roof is connected to a traditional electric tank-type water heater in the utility room in the home that is the showpiece of an eventual 51-home community on Betty Lane and Sunset Point Road.

The electric water heater is a back up for the solar system for those cloudy days.

The solar heater is not the only energy-saving addition built into the house. Efficient windows, doors, and CFL bulbs are in every light socket.

Habitat homeowners can typically see a $1,000 savings in energy bills throughout the year, said Sue Hoffman, spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

“We take [energy efficiency] seriously,” Hoffman said.

Some of those energy-saving building techniques come at a cost. It can be $5,000 to $10,000 more in construction, said Ron Spoor, chief operations officer for Habitat of Humanity of Pinellas County.

"We do things that make sense long-term," Spoor said. "I actually believe we are leaders in the industry."

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