Manatee County builder wows buyers with solar-powered community
It's been five years since Pearl Homes launched a solar-powered, net-positive community. With residents moving in, the company is now five years ahead of the industry.
| 5:00 a.m. February 16, 2023
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A pipeline dream just five years ago, Hunters Point in Cortez, an Old Florida fishing village in west Manatee County, off Sarasota Bay, held a showcase in January to celebrate the achievement the community, from Pearl Homes, is on the verge of reaching. More than 100 people showed up to learn more about the project with an additional 40 tuning in over Zoom.
Pearl Homes President and Founder Marshall Gobuty says the community of 86 solar-powered, net-positive homes will be the first LEED platinum LEED Zero community in the U.S when completed. The certification, the highest level of LEED certifications, is donned by the US Green Building Council.
In the simplest terms, the homes generate more power than tenants or owners consume without a carbon footprint.
The home runs on solar panels that are connected to a huge Sonnen battery. It’s a never ending cycle of powering up in the morning through absorption of power collected by the panels during the day. Then at night the battery clicks on and runs the home. The energy that doesn’t get used during the day is used at night, so, Gobuty says there’s never any waste.
Because it's so new, Pearl Homes worked with Manatee County to establish new codes. One example? The blower door test to determine how much air is entering or escaping a home. The Manatee County standard is 7.0. “We’re under one,” Gobuty says, “which means there’s no air leaking into the house.”
The county had to create a new standard for the project. “It’s been hell. It’s been hard doing something that’s never been done before,” he adds.
Gobuty hopes others will follow, now that Pearl Homes has paved the way.
“This is a situation where we’re definitely five years too early, but we knew that going in,” he says. “In five years this is the way homes will be built.”
While ahead of its time, the houses are also well ahead of the median cost of a home in Manatee County. The median sales price for a home in Manatee County in January was $449,500, according to data from Realtor.com. That comes out to $266 per square foot, on average.
Hunters Point homes that have sold have ranged between $1.49 and $1.89 million, Gobuty says. A home listed on the Hunters Point website for $1.59 million is 1,658 square feet. That comes out to $959 a square foot — 260% more than the Manatee County average.
Since the community is less than a mile from being on Anna Maria Island, the price tag is much less compared to other island homes. The median sales price in Anna Maria in January was $2.2 million, which comes out to roughly $1,400 per square foot.
Gobuty, though, says affordable housing has to be part of this trend going forward, though he recognizes market and support isn’t there — yet. “You shouldn’t have to be rich to live in a sustainable home,” he says. “It should have no connection.”
Gobuty is backing his vision with his wallet: Pearl Homes recently purchased 120 acres between Ellenton and Parrish in north Manatee County for 720 single family rentals, which will be sustainable with market rate rents. That will begin after Hunters Point is complete.
On that front, Hunters Point construction is in the first phase, which consists of 30 homes, and that’s expected to wrap up in September. Pearl Homes has already closed sales on those homes with nine already occupied. The goal is to have two to three housing starts a month.
Then phase two will begin. Gobuty is hoping to expedite the process of the 56 homes remaining to five to six starts a month. The project also includes a 20-room boutique hotel.
In addition to selling the specific homes in Hunters Point, another goal is outreach to get homebuilders, even small homebuilders, on board to scale this project on a national level.
“Between the sustainable component and the construction component, it’s completely different from a normal home,” Gobuty says, before adding, “but anyone can do it.”
“It’s just like playing Mr. Potato Head. We can bring all the components together and it’s just assembling it. It’s not harder. It’s just different components.”
Gobuty is hopeful in generating interest from national companies through two points: the positive response the community has received thus far and the fact that Gobuty can lead any home builder through the process.
“I don’t want royalty. I want them to do this.”
There are several material differences between these homes and traditional homes. Traditional homes are built using 2x4 frames. Hunters Point homes use 2x6s for resiliency, which was proven effective during Hurricane Ian when the houses remained intact. Gobuty says the houses are built to withstand category five hurricanes.
The houses in Hunters Point are structured with an additional six inches of foam insulation throughout the entire home, which means the HVAC system runs on a minimal amount of power since hardly any air is escaping.
On the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index, an industry standard that measures a home's energy efficiency, a new home built to code would receive a 90-100 rating. “The lower (the rating), the more efficient your home is,” Gobuty says.
The Hunters Point homes come in at -13.
A big challenge on the sales side has been consumer education. To help mitigate that, Pearl Homes hired a biologist familiar with Sonnen, the energy industry company that produces the batteries for these homes, to ensure owners understand the science behind the community so they can utilize it fully.
So instead of providing advice on how to clean their quartz countertop, Pearl Homes is able to explain to residents how to manage the “power plant” in their home.
“We have to make sure to educate them because they want to know,” he says. “We thought it would be an imposition. Instead, we’ve had to dig deep and find the right person to understand the common sense part of it as a homeowner but then explain the benefits and how to manage the (power plant).
“The more they know, the more they’ll tell people about this great experience. The better experience they have, the more this can become a normal trend.”
The story was amplified to reflect home prices closer to Hunters Point.