Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County to build first house with solar panels

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 13, 2013 

BIRCH BAY - For the first time, Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County will build a house that includes solar panels.

Groundbreaking for the Birch Bay home is Saturday, Dec. 14, with construction starting next spring.

Volunteers with Habitat's Women Build program will build the house on Leeside Drive in Birch Bay with future owners Julio and Juana Ortiz, who will move in with their four children when it's done.

Julio Ortiz is an immigrant from Guatemala, where he was a school teacher. He now works in the berry fields in Whatcom County.

"His dream is to actually go back to school to be a teacher here," said Kirsten Hammer, resource development manager with Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County.

Juana Ortiz also wants to be able to teach in the U.S., Hammer added.

The Birch Bay house will be the third ultra-energy-efficient design home built by Habitat in Whatcom County, and the first with solar panels.

Western Solar is donating the panels.

"We just thought it was a great cause to be a part of," said Joshua Miller, general manager for Western Solar.

Such a home will cost several thousand dollars more than traditional construction, according to Habitat, but the savings in energy costs should offset the additional expense for the homeowners.

The goal is to be both environmentally friendly and to keep the house affordable long term by keeping down energy costs.

"Even though the mortgage might be affordable for the homeowner, heating costs might skyrocket. We have no idea how that would be in the future," Hammer said of the cost of energy.

Habitat expects the house will produce nearly as much power as it uses. (In Washington state, solar energy that's created goes into a power grid, and a homeowner can trade a house's unused power with the utility at a retail rate. It's known as net metering.)

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit Christian organization that builds houses for people of all faiths who need affordable housing.

Families help build their homes and then buy them with $500 down and a zero-percent interest mortgage.

TO HELP

Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County's groundbreaking for the Ortiz house is 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at 7535 Leeside Drive in Birch Bay.

To volunteer, support or learn more about the Birch Bay project, go online to hfhwhatcom.org, or call the Habitat for Humanity's Whatcom County office at 360-715-9170.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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