Gainesville Going Green, One House at a Time

Tom Fox house digital rendering

Tom Fox house digital renderingGainesville resident Tom Fox’s dream-home is a fully sustainable dwelling made not from stone, but rather from shipping containers that used to travel across oceans or trek from state-to-state. As of February, he has transformed his vision into a reality, and you can find it at 612 SW Fifth Terrace, in Gainesville.

Fox spent nearly a decade conducting research before breaking ground, talking to hundreds of people about the subject. Fox said his major influence came from his friends, family and especially all the professionals he had consulted.

“(The house) evolved through a three-year process of intense planning, design, permitting and all that kind of stuff,” Fox said. “I have been working on it probably on and off for about 10 years now.”

In 2012, all the work has finally paid off. Between construction and raising money, Fox has put together an interesting nest he can now call home.

Fox said he achieved his goals throughout this project, including being on the path to getting his home platinum certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized mark of excellence.

“What I’m really proud of was, it’s going to be a LEED house, and that this was going to be the second LEED platinum house in the county.” Fox said.

But building an energy-efficient house doesn’t come easy. Loans for this kind of project are scarce, Fox said. Luckily, he had money he earned from investing in properties over the years, which he liquidated to fund this project.

Even with funds, the roadblocks kept coming. Fox said the hardest part was finding professionals who knew what they were doing, particularly working with the steel containers.

“I talked to a few contractors, and a few of them didn’t know where to start,” Fox said. “I think getting the right guys and people on the job were the most important factor throughout this project.”

Tom Fox house digital rendering photo courtesy: Gainesville Sun

photo courtesy: Gainesville Sun

In order to become LEED platinum certified, the U.S. Green Building Council must first examine Fox’s home. He has not yet received the thumbs up from the inspectors, but he’s not too worried.

“I don’t have a certificate, yet, but I’m 99 percent sure that I’m going to get LEED platinum, and that’s quite an accomplishment.” Fox said. “It means that you’re building green, it means you’re helping the environment.”

With this house, Fox is definitely doing his part. On the roof, Fox spent nearly $75,000 in solar panels. With this addition, Fox is actually making more power than he is using, averaging over 30 kilowatt-hours per day in production and consuming only 20 kilowatt-hours per day in energy and electricity use.

“I’m taking care of my carbon footprint as far as my living,” Fox said, “and I’m really happy about that.”

The house stands at three stories with 2,100 square feet under heating and air conditioning. If you take into consideration the two-car garage, patio and roof deck, that adds up to a total of 5,000 square feet.

Because of it’s size, the Fox residence draws a lot of attention from neighbors and passers-by, who for the most part do not have a problem with the house at all.

Hannah Itzler, 19, sustainability and the built environment major at the University of Florida, feels this house is extremely unique and hopes to see more of its kind in the future.

“I definitely think this is a stepping-stone in the right path for the green movement,” Itzler said. “This house shows that it only takes one person to start something that can ultimately turn into a positive global effort.”

According to Fox, he can literally say out of 1,000 people he had talked to during the past few months and the open house, he had 997 people who had nothing but positive feedback.

“I only had three people that didn’t like it and they were the same three people that didn’t like from when I started,” Fox said. “Basically, it is the three older ladies that have lived here for 60 years. They don’t understand the energy efficiency and they don’t understand a lot of things about it.”

The Fox residence was the first house to be built in the area in over 25 years from private money, not including city-funded projects and Habitat for Humanity.

One of the benefits from Fox building in this area was the fact that Gainesville Regional Utilities, know as GRU, had to put in a new infrastructure, since nothing like Fox’s home has been constructed in the area for nearly 25 years.

“I understand some of the naysayers but at the same time the benefits are already happening for these people in this area and I think I’m helping property value too,” Fox said. “I don’t think there has been anything that has been done in this world that don’t have one or two people that don’t like it.”

But this does not stop Fox from basking in the sense of accomplishment. To Fox, it is a dream come true to accomplish something of this magnitude, and he wishes to inspire others to follow his dream and go green.

“On this design, it’s a very efficient urban design. I only have a 70’-by-70’ lot and I was able to really max it out, which is one of the examples I was trying to give people,” Fox said. “You can do it in the middle of the city, you can be completely energy efficient, you can be carbon neutral.”

Nsilo Alcantara, is a 23-year-old construction major at the University of Florida. He said he hopes that one day he could be a part of something so moving.

“I think most people in the industry are definitely intrigued by doing projects of this sort since it’s extremely green and different, and that’s what I’m kind of studying in my college,” Alcantara said. “I don’t know, it’s just something cool to be a part of.”

Fox, who hopes to encourage others to think of the environment while building a house for themselves, said people don’t have to live in the woods and grow their own food in order to be green.

According to Fox, all that anyone needs is, “a very good engineer, a very good architect and a very good welder. If you get those three guys, then you can do anything.”

Want to learn more about the Fox residence?  Check it out online.