Discerning and forward-thinking owners in Cayman are looking to create homes that provide sustainability for themselves and their children, in the form of hurricane protection as well as energy efficiency. That’s the view of custom home builder Lindsay Scott, owner of LAS development, who is at present building two homes of distinction in South Sound with those two ambitions firmly in mind. The ultimate goal for these and like-minded home owners across Cayman is that government will implement net metering so they can take the next step in sustainability and “go solar” reports Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull.
I begin my investigation into how Cayman’s home owners are embracing the latest technology and ideas to properly protect their families from natural disasters as well as huge energy bills with a tour around a construction project which may have caught many readers’ eyes – the new residence on South Sound. This magnificent property that graces the western end of South Sound immediately stands out because of its stature, having been constructed on 20 inch wide piles.
“The owners had two important goals for their family residence: it must be as solidly built as possible to withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and it must be as energy efficient as possible,” explains Lindsay Scott, builder. “Therefore the most important aspect of the design was to lift the building up and out of the way of future storm surge.”
It is estimated that this section of South Sound was submerged up to 8 foot by waves during Grand Cayman’s worst hurricane in living memory, Hurricane Ivan, the Category 4/5 storm that hit Grand Cayman September 2004, as well as Hurricane Dean in 2008 that destroyed neighbouring properties, thus it was imperative for the owners to build on piles to avoid the onslaught of the sea, should another intense hurricane hit. The first floor begins therefore 17 feet above sea level.
“We drilled down between 10 to 12 feet to reach the bedrock so the construction is incredibly sturdy,” Scott explains. “So should another intense hurricane wash the sand through under the house it in no way compromises the foundation of the house.”
The family will use the space under the house for parking.
“The walls of the house are constructed using insulated concrete forms. This method of construction produces a 6 inch steel reinforced solid concrete wall with foam insulation on each side of the wall. This method is widely respected as the strongest, most energy efficient way to construct exterior walls for homes and commercial developments,” Scott explains.
To ensure that power is able to be reconnected swiftly following a stoppage by the electricity company, CUC, in a storm, Scott has ensured that the house is directly wired to the main electrical grid lines that run along South Sound, while he has brought all the electrical connections including the main connection 17 feet up inside the house, burying the outside connections underground for added protection.
“The family will have their power up and running as soon as power is restored to South Sound,” Scott adds.
Uniquely for a home in Cayman, the air conditioning condenser units are stored inside the home instead of out.
“Exposure to sunlight, water and salt all speed up the aging process for condensers so we located the family’s within its own special electrical room that is well ventilated and also well insulated,” Scott states.
“The unit itself is a top-of-the-range Daikin, this will be the first VRV (variable refrigerant volume) A/C system installed here in Cayman. Daikin is a world leader in air conditioning technologies and use of this system will serve to considerably reduce the electricity costs for the home owners. We anticipate this equipment to consume only a third of the electricity usually required to power a home of this size.”
Multiple air handlers located around the house allow for zone control by the home owners, so that no more than three rooms will be controlled by one unit.
All windows and doors are hurricane rated (to withstand winds of up to 165 mph), with those windows over six feet rated to withstand 200 mph winds. All operable windows have an eight point locking system which provides an airtight lock that won’t let wind or water in during a hurricane.
A continuous supply
Another neat feature of the house is the 1,300 gallon water tank that sits at the top floor of the house.
“The tank slowly fills all day long so the water never sits for very long. The water is filtered in a similar way to how you would normally filter your water for consumption, thus removing sediment in the water and therefore prolonging the life of faucets, shower heads, etc. It’s then pressurised and sent to the water-using appliances in the house, such as dishwashers, showers etc. The water pressure therefore always remains the same, no matter how many family members are showering and the pump is automatically connected to a generator, should the electricity be turned off,” Scott confirms.
Should the water also be switched off Scott says 1,300 gallons will serve the family for about a week at usual consumption levels. Should the generator fail, the location of the tank at the top of the house allows for rooms with showers and toilets on the floors below to be served via gravity.
Insulating against high fuel costs
Heading to the very top of the house, Scott highlights the insulation foam that has been sprayed in the attic, a space which normally is stifling hot but, says Scott, is unlikely to reach temperatures higher than 85 degrees because of the Icynene foam insulation.
“The Icynene provides a protective barrier, preventing the heat from penetrating into the house and thus keeping the attic area cooler than normal. This is really important because it keeps the a/c system cool and thereby allows the a/c to function more efficiently,” Scott explains.
A unique fresh air exchange system means that warm fresh air is dehumidified and pumped into the house alongside cool stale air that is continuously being pumped out, again, via the electrical room. This means the warm air is cooled by the cool air and the house maintains fresh air within. The air is only pumped outside via the electrical room, therefore preventing the need for outlets elsewhere in the house, making the house impenetrable to hurricane forces.
Scott says there are huge added benefits to having a dedicated electrical room because all the stale air from air extractors throughout the house (such as those in the shower rooms and the kitchen) runs out via this room as well. This cuts out the noise associated with extractor fans as the electrical room itself is well insulated from noise.
Net metering needed now
From our lofty point 42 feet above sea level on the family’s third floor patio, Scott indicates below to the side of the property, where the solar panel trellis will be installed once the government finally instigates net metering.
“This house is the perfect candidate for solar power. We have measured exactly how many panels will be required to power the house and exactly where these panels will be located,” Scott says. “We just need government to move forward and approve net metering [whereby the homeowners only pay for the extra electricity they need from the grid at the same rate that they get paid by CUC for the electricity which they generate and give back to the grid.] This is crucial for the solar movement in going forward.”
In Cayman we currently spend approximately $0.27/kWh on our power bills. There are only two individual homes which have currently signed onto Cayman’s CORE agreement (which allows for customers who generate their own electricity (via solar panels or wind turbines) to remain connected to CUC’s grid system and receive the benefit of the continuous source of electricity.) When electricity is generated in these homes during the day that exceeds the requirement of the home the excess energy is delivered back to CUC’s grid system and a credit is given to that customer of the present fuel factor plus $0.005 per kWh. The credit is presently around CI$0.175/kWh.
Scott was the builder for the late Frank Banks’ home, the first home in Cayman to be “grid tied” relying on its own generated solar power to power the entire home. Scott says one year on from them switching the solar power on for that home and the government is still not any nearer in passing legislation that would allow for net metering.
He says that he has clients waiting in droves for this to take place:
“The cost of solar panels has reduced dramatically in the last year or so,” he says. “Panels have reduced from $900 a piece down to around $500, therefore an almost 50 per cent reduction. This makes a huge difference in their viability. Now suddenly they have become affordable and desirable here in Cayman. We have homeowners chomping at the bit, ready to install solar technology as soon as they receive a net credit that equals the cost when they need to consume from the grid.”
Turning to the second house under construction by Scott (his own property in Vienna Circle) he says that all the technology used in the larger ocean front property will be installed into his smaller home, but just scaled down.
”I am using the same ICF technology, installing a Daikin A/C system and insulating the attic with Icynene. I have set my home on pilings so that I am elevated 16 feet above sea level again with just car parking underneath the house, so we will be protected from flooding in the event of a serious storm,” he explains. “My windows will be resistant to wind speeds of 165 mph and we will be installing a standing seam roof.”
Scott also indicates to me where his solar panel systems will be installed once the government brings in net metering.”
Scott furthers: “The late Frank Banks taught me that each of us must personally take responsibility for our own carbon footprint. The diesel fuel burned to generate the electricity that powers our homes is one of the largest contributors to green house gases here in Cayman. We each can control the amount of electrical current our personal homes consume by building well insulated homes, installing energy efficient A/C systems and appliances and installing solar electric equipment. This will reduce the amount of electrical current that CUC will have to produce to meet the needs of our homes. This will also significantly reduce our monthly electrical bill and minimise the negative impact we each have on the environment here in Cayman.”
He concludes: “I want to build a sustainable home for my family. We are building a beautiful pond area at the back of the home to create a safe haven for the water fowl that live nearby and in the same way I am creating a safehaven for my family, too.”
Read more on the construction of Lindsay Scott’s sustainable home in coming editions of The Journal.