The Team, Dream and Legacy Behind LifeStyle Homes
In the thick of the Great Recession, Central Florida’s real estate market was ranked the third worst in the U.S. The Space Shuttle program was gearing up for retirement and the state’s unemployment rate reached over 12 percent. Banks stopped lending money to homebuilders and new homes wouldn’t appraise for what they were worth. Homes built only a few years prior were back on the market for less than the cost to build them.
To say the outlook for Brevard County homebuilders was bleak would be an understatement. “By 2009, we were in survival mode,” recalled Larry Hufford, co-founder of LifeStyle Homes, Inc. of West Melbourne. “We watched many of our respected competitors succumb to economic hardships. And we knew that if we were going to avoid this same fate, we needed a game changer – a solid reason for someone to build with us. The bottom line was that we had to build a better home, but how?”
As the LifeStyle team exhausted various ideas on how to accomplish this, local gas prices reached $4 a gallon…and that’s when the proverbial light bulb went off.
Hufford soon landed on the doorstep of the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) in Cocoa. There he met FSEC’s team of building research scientists – a group driven by a passion for sustainability and energy-efficient building practices. A partnership between FSEC and LifeStyle quickly formed, and the allies went to work on developing a scientifically tested, cost-effective, energy-efficient building envelope for LifeStyle’s new homes.
While the LifeStyle team was open to all of FSEC’s recommendations, the builder did identify one stipulation: each energy-efficient building component or practice must produce a “cost-neutral” outcome for the homebuyer. Meaning, if a specific item caused a homebuyer’s mortgage to increase by a certain amount, it must simultaneously decrease that homeowner’s electric bill by the same amount.
The end result became known as the LifeStyle SunSmartSM energy initiative, and soon all of LifeStyle’s new homes adhered to this higher level of building. “As its name implies, building LifeStyle SunSmartSM does not only mean building cleaner, it also means building smarter,” said Jordan Luhn, CEO of LifeStyle Homes.
Each LifeStyle SunSmartSM home reduces energy waste by 40 percent or more – a fact that is guaranteed by third-party energy raters who thoroughly test each home.
While LifeStyle’s new method of building certainly helped the builder regain its footing in a struggling marketplace, it was the introduction of solar technology that truly took the company to a whole new level.
In August 2010, again with the guidance of FSEC’s building scientists, LifeStyle Homes built the first “zero-energy” home on Florida’s east coast. This 2,395 sq. ft. (under air) Rockledge home features an 8.0 kilowatt solar system that garners an energy performance of 107 percent. This means that the home not only produces 100 percent of the energy its owners will ever need, it routes an additional 7 percent back to the utility company. Along with a virtually $0 monthly electric bill, the homeowners also receive a credit with the utility company for the excess energy.
Since the completion of this first zero-energy home, LifeStyle has gone on to build nearly 25 more – including the company’s most famous home which was featured on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in February 2011.
Even with this incremental success, the LifeStyle team alludes to frustrations with the slow adoption of renewable energies – namely solar power – statewide. The fact that the “Sunshine State” is now ranked 18th in the U.S. – falling behind states like Delaware and Virginia – in its amount of solar installations is an irony that should not be lost on Florida residents.
“There seems to still be a misconception among the general populace in Florida that a home’s ability to produce all the energy its owners will ever need is nothing more than science fiction. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We know it can be done and we’ve proven it,” said Hufford.
Solar power proponents within Florida oftentimes cite a lack of statewide leadership and financial incentives as large parts of the problem, as well.
Creating a Solar Economy
The fact remains, however, that the costs of solar systems continue to drop while quality and performance continue to rise. And as long as that’s the case, LifeStyle Homes will continue to lead the charge for solar-powered homes.
“We truly believe that renewable energies are the keys to our country’s prosperity. Investing in solar energy is just the right thing to do,” said Karen Hufford, LifeStyle’s marketing director.
The LifeStyle team points out that solar energy has the power to reduce the U.S.’s dependence on oil imports, ultimately leading to increased safety and greater economic stability.
Additionally, solar energy requires no carbon, methane or particulate emissions. This, in turn, provides the planet relief from greenhouse gas emissions and makes the air we breathe cleaner. “And, that’s just today. Solar-powered homes deliver real benefits right now, but they promise even more for the future,” stated Luhn.
To demonstrate this point, later this year Larry Hufford plans to purchase an electric vehicle – most likely the Ford Focus – and charge it overnight in the garage of a solar-powered zero-energy LifeStyle home. In other words, LifeStyle will demonstrate how their homes can produce enough energy to not only power the home, but an electric car as well. Hufford added, “Just think of it – a life without electric bills or gasoline expenses. That’s where we’re headed.”