Solution in motion

SIPs houses in demand on Big Pine Key

It’s easy to see how the raised shell of a house at 31462 Ave. E on Big Pine Key will soon be a home.

The studs are bare within the 760-square-foot house, but standing in the spacious living room and on the nearby deck (with a 180-degree view of the water, by the way) images of the future family to live there come to mind.

“We certainly have a pool of people to draw from, and the first qualified will be the first to live here,” said Mike Laurent, Florida Keys Community Land Trust executive director, on a tour of the home last week.

The Florida Keys Community Land Trust is a private entity, yet the county owns the land on Big Pine Key where the houses are going up.

The plot of land on Avenue E is one of four lots on Big Pine Key the county has bought from the land trust at a total cost of $399,996. While the county owns the land, the Community Land Trust will manage the units.

The land trust has already started construction on the other three units.

“They’re all actually close to each other. Two are on Avenue E and two are on Avenue D and they’re all within a couple blocks of each other,” Laurent said.

The rent rate for the first four homes will be set at 80 percent of the Monroe County median annual income. The county’s maximum monthly rental rate for 80 percent AMI is $1,588 in a two-bedroom home.

Monroe County commissioners have cited the structural insulated panel homes (SIPs) as part of the solution to Monroe County’s affordable housing crisis.

The first four homes are “extremely energy-efficient,” according to designer Marianne Cusato. She helped design 450 cottages in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

“They’re raised above the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood level, so they’re designed to meet the extreme weather and climate of the Keys and be affordable and durable to maintain over time,” she said.

SIPs panels

“These are the panels for the third house,” Laurent said, pointing to a stack underneath the house. The panels are made of an insulated foam core sandwiched between two large pieces of oriented strand board – similar to particleboard.

“It’s really rigid Styrofoam and it’s really strong,” he said of the white center piece. You can see these are labeled like a puzzle, and you put the house together like a puzzle.”

Like a Yeti cooler, the house will be sealed up for maximum energy efficiency, Laurent said, and they’re even pressure tested after construction.

“I’ve seen SIPs houses in New Orleans and Mississippi where the average power bill in the summer is $50,” he said.

The best part about the new houses is they’re built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

“These will still be standing after the next storm rolls through,” Laurent said.

Katie Atkins is a western New York native who, when not working, can probably be found on the beach with her nose in a book. Sweets are her weakness (10 fillings this year), along with pizza and her adopted senior cat, Buddy.