By Stephen K. Peeples
The nonprofit San Fernando Valley/Santa Clarita Valley Habitat for Humanity organization and its local offshoot SCV Habitat for Heroes have partnered with Green Convergence, a Valencia-based SunPower Elite solar energy system installer, to provide new systems for military veterans’ homes at no cost to the owners.
The first new system was installed on an Iraq War veteran’s home in Saugus on Oct. 27, 2012 (pictured).
The company is hoping to assist with solar energy systems for a “Veteran Village” of more than 80 new homes to be built by SCV Habitat for Heroes in the Centre Pointe area of Santa Clarita with groundbreaking targeted for late spring 2013. It’s the first project of its kind in the nation with Habitat building the homes in partnership with CalVet (California Department of Veteran Affairs).
In addition, Green Convergence in cooperation with SunTrust will donate up to $2,000 to SCV Habitat for Heroes for every solar installation completed for civilian homeowners through SFV/SCV Habitat for Humanity’s program, or for any local homeowner who simply mentions “Habitat” when ordering a new system.
“We're excited that we have set up this program through Habitat and SCV Habitat for Heroes, where somebody calls in Green Convergence, and tells us they want to participate in this program,” said Mark Figearo, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
“Not only will we put in and install a solar system that's going to get rid of their electric bill, but we'll also donate to Habitat,” he said. “The opportunity to do anything for people who have made the sacrifices they've made — we're just so excited to be a part of this.”
A licensed electrical contractor in the construction business for more than three decades, and a successful small-business owner for more than two decades, Figearo holds SunPower Master Sales and Advanced Design and Installation certifications.
He also served on the construction team that built the Real Life Church in the Bridgeport area of Valencia, the first U.S. Green Building Council Gold LEED-certified church building in the United States (LEED stands for “leadership in energy and environmental design”).
In August 2008, Figearo decided to focus his business on solar energy systems, and co-founded Green Convergence with D.J. Schramm, who serves as the company's president. Starting off in a small office, the booming company now employs 40 people, has outgrown its current 5,000-square-foot headquarters, and is planning to move to a 10,000-square-foot facility in the next few months.
A Brush with the Murphy Home
The SCV Habitat for Heroes partnership follows Green Convergence’s previous involvement with SCV Habitat for Humanity in the refurbishment of homes for veterans, a program called “A Brush with Kindness.”
Last month, the company donated and installed new roofing and a SunPower system for veteran Joshua Murphy and his wife Windie, whose home in Saugus was refurbished by Habitat volunteers on the weekend before Veteran’s Day in November 2011. He fought in Iraq and suffers from a debilitating case of post-traumatic stress disorder and a variety of other physical problems resulting from his service.
“It was the launch of SCV Habitat for Heroes, the first home we did,” said Carl Goldman, who along with his wife, Jeri (owners of KHTS AM-1220 radio in Santa Clarita) and Mike Mizrahi from Southern California Gas Company launched the organization under the umbrella of SFV/SCV Habitat for Humanity.
“We had more than 300 people come out, community volunteers and organizations," Goldman said. "Home Depot was incredible, donating much of the material, appliances, even windows. Their team also came out and volunteered that weekend to assist with our refurbishment. We’re into well over $100,000 in rehab for that home.”
Green Convergence's Ken Scherer, a Marine, works on a wiring upgrade at the Murphy residence in November 2011.
Because the Murphys’ home had been built in the 1970s, it was far less energy-efficient than housing built today.
“They had very high electric bills for a small home,” Goldman said. “They had old appliances; the windows weren't very well insulated. In the peak of the summer, they sometimes had to make decisions on whether to run the air conditioner or keep the refrigerator on.”
After hearing of the Murphys’ plight, SCV Habitat for Heroes contacted them with an offer to refurbish their house, and the couple gratefully accepted.
“Last November we ended up giving them a whole new kitchen, plus a new air conditioner, new windows and new insulation, so their energy bills dropped significantly,” Jeri Seratti-Goldman said. “And as we were getting ready to start, Green Convergence stepped up and offered to ask SunPower to donate a system, and to provide the labor and the cost of setting up the roof.”
“We were out there initially helping rehab the Murphys’ house, and then I got our manufacturer SunPower involved,” Figearo said. “SunPower makes the most efficient panels on the planet and was generous enough to donate the panels for this project. We donated labor and the rest of the equipment to get rid of (the Murphys’) electric bill."
Over the next several months, the necessary city permits were obtained and Green Convergence’s crew converged on the Murphys’ house to install the new system on Oct. 27, in time for Veteran’s Day 2012.
“Our guys were great. They volunteered their time, they showed up on a Saturday and installed the system pretty much in one day,” Figearo said. “We can't appreciate enough the blessing of living in this country, and its people like Josh that give us the freedoms that we enjoy."
The Murphys thought just as highly of the Green Convergence crew. "They were very polite, very kind, they always called to make sure that it was a good time for us, they were done when they said they were going to be done, they didn’t leave a mess, they left it clean and put it back the way it was," Windie Murphy said in early November. "Green Convergence was really good. (The system) has been installed, the unit's in the garage, the panels are on the roof, the conduit's been run, and everything's ready to go. We're just waiting for Edison to connect the meter."
She said the customer service was excellent. "Mark even came back the following day to verify and check everything and make sure that we were satisfied and asked if there was anything else they could do for us. Just a personal home visit. Mark and Ken — they’re just wonderful people."
A system the size of the Murphys’ 1,642-square-foot house would cost about $23,000 in hardware, software and labor, Figearo estimated. That cost would be reduced by a rebate from Southern California Edison (the amount varies based on the size of the unit; in the Murphys’ case it was $2,045, he said). The homeowner can then take a federal income tax deduction of 30 percent of the net cost. Green Convergence has a program that allows homeowners to get started with no down payment.
After preparing the Murphys' rooftop, Green Convengence technicians install the SunPower solar panels. Photo: Samantha Stephenson/KHTS.
By drastically reducing or eliminating the homeowner’s monthly electric bill, the system eventually pays for the remaining out-of-pocket expense and saves on future energy costs. Depending system size and usage, this could add up to well into five and six figures over a 20-year span, according to the Green Convergence website.
"That’s going to be a huge financial burden off of us, because right now it’s $200-$300 a month and it’s just 1,600 square feet, so in the winter and the summer it’s going to make a huge difference for us," Windie Murphy said. "I’m very grateful."
SCV Habitat for Heroes has since completed other “Brush with Kindness” rehab projects, aided by volunteers ranging from individuals to school and church groups to teams of employees from companies and corporations. They include sprucing up American Legion Post 507 (about $60,000), and the home of a young Canyon Country widow and mother whose husband was killed in Iraq (“a very inexpensive touch-up,” Goldman said). More such refurbishing projects for veterans' homes are in the works.
By working alongside the pros who also donate their time and expertise, those volunteers have gained valuable experience that just may come in handy next year, when the building of Veteran Village gets under way.
Green Convergence joins other major local SCV Habitat for Heroes partners including KHTS AM-1220, Southern California Gas Company, The Home Depot, National Construction Rentals, Primestor and Rabobank.
On the Murphy project, sponsors also included Champion Windows, Rowland Air, Corner Bakery Cafe, Entertainment Industries Council Inc., Deanne Dahl Interior & Exterior Planning, Design and Consultation, American Medical Response and Chick-fil-A.
In-kind donations of goods or services were provided by SunPower, Stay Green Inc. landscaping, Gourmet Genie, Advantage Disposal & Recycling, Aloha Mondays, Affordable H.E.R.S., SCV Rentals and Creative Design Centers.
Prospective Veteran Village residents may begin the application process now, by contacting SCV Habitat for Heroes at 818-884-8808 or visiting the project’s website at www.habitatscv.org . Along with information about the future neighborhood for vets, the website offers donation and local volunteering opportunities.
And Green Convergence, by extending its support of SCV Habitat for Heroes to also include donating cash when customers just say “Habitat,” provides our community another way to help our veterans.
“Just to have the opportunity to give back in that way to our veterans who keep us free and have sacrificed so much is a bigger blessing to us, I think, than it is to them,” Figearo said.
Green Convergence is located at 28490 Westinghouse Place, Suite 160, Santa Clarita 91355. For more information about the company and its involvement with SCV Habitat for Heroes, call 661-294-9999 or visit www.greenconvergence.com .
See press conference about Habitat's Veteran Village .
Photos: Courtesy Green Convergence except as noted. See more photos of the Murphy project , and a variety of Green Convergence’s commercial and residential solar projects .