Gulfport’s Veronica Champion, owner of the Peninsula Inn, had a checklist of commercial improvements and upgrades valued at $230,000 and recently accomplished all of her goals thanks to help from PACE, a national financing program, and a local general contractor.
According to the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) website, the program is a “way for qualified property owners in subscribed communities to finance energy efficiency, renewable energy and wind-hardening improvements through a long-term property assessment.”
Currently, in Pinellas County, Gulfport is the only city that participates in the PACE program and it is only for commercial properties. At this time, Gulfport has no plans to expand PACE to residential properties but “if the county approves it, a resident of Gulfport could participate,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.
In addition to working with PACE, Champion also enlisted the help of Wind, Water & Energy, a general contractor based in St. Pete Beach, because of their local track record in dealing with small and large project assessments, recommendations and management.
“We would brainstorm,” said Champion. “After kicking ideas around for a while, we came up with what we thought was the best case scenario over time. I can honestly say that Wind, Water and Energy was priceless to me. They were fantastic and understood we were an operating business throughout the project and kept the work site clean every day.”
The Checklist and Financing
When Champion bought the inn in January 2016, she understood that the previous owners, Alexandra and Jim Kingzett, had paved the way with the city regarding the PACE program. She knew the air conditioning units in the rooms and common areas along with the roof would need to be addressed soon.
Each item on her list was either active or passive regarding being energy efficient.
“The passive is sometimes as important as the active,” she said.
“We had over 38 different air conditioning units in various ages,” said Champion. Most were about 17 years old.
To provide a sense of scale in the 12 guest rooms and suites, 26 window air conditioning units were unmatched and most were loud with a SEER rating of nine. In most of 2017, she identified what needed to be done, learned the work flow of the PACE program and gathered all of the documentation required to eventually have the total project cost tied to her property tax assessment as opposed to taking out a second mortgage or other type of business loan.
“Basically, my property taxes have doubled for the next 20 years. But, the benefit to me is I don’t have that debt sitting on my balance sheet,” she said. “If I sell the business in 10 years, that tax assessment goes with the building. The cost goes with the property from one owner to the next. That’s the PACE program right there in a nutshell.”
The construction mostly took place from December 2017 to mid-January 2018 with completion happening just before her main season began in February and March.
Now, each new, matching energy-efficient and energy-saving unit has a 22-SEER rating that combines air conditioning, a heat pump and an air handler all in one appliance. The new technology is controlled by each guest, takes up less space as wall-mounted units and is “very quiet,” said Champion.
For the other areas of the inn like the hallways, the enclosed ground-floor bar and restaurant, and the kitchen, Champion chose a series of five HVAC units that now function as part of a tuned remote-controlled system. They are also mounted on the second-story roof out of the way of any flooding that may occur.
“Since we’ve installed the HVAC system, we set it for 70 degrees and it actually keeps the building warm enough that the guests don’t need to have heat in the rooms,” said Champion. “It’s been nice. The whole building has really dried out. You can feel it. You can smell the difference. Not that it ever smelled bad, but it’s an older building that had dampness and dampness does have a smell to it.”The roof had several leak points and Champion knew it was not going to get better with time. “We also had some insulation issues,” she said. “On the third floor, it would get very hot in the summer time.”
Originally, she wanted a metal roof but when an expert took a detailed look, Champion was told, “Your building is just too old and has too many awkward angles that are not square or straight.” She learned that with metal, things must line up otherwise there will be gaps – and with gaps, you get water.
“So, I ended up with a high-efficiency, solar reflective architectural shingle roof and below that we put a thick double-sided membrane of rubber,” said Champion. “It’s rated for hurricanes, is water-tight and is guaranteed for the life of the building.”
Part of the PACE project also included replacing and relocating the 17-year-old walk-in refrigerator and freezer to repair condensation damage that had occurred to the kitchen floor caused by poor installation. This allowed Champion to expand the kitchen to accommodate the new energy-efficient equipment while also adding insulation to keep the area’s walls cooler from the heat of the sun.
“We did so much wall repair and replacing of shingles that we had to paint,” she said. “It’s a very high efficiency paint, which is also a water barrier.”
The yellow color is called Hawaiian Pineapple. Champion selected four samples and painted patches on an exterior wall so they could be viewed over a period of several months in different lighting conditions.
“We let guests talk and discuss the paint choices,” said Champion. “This was the color they liked best.”
Among the passive checklist items are the new UV-resistant window shades located in the public areas.
“When the sun does come in, it’s nice because it’s bright and sunny but you also don’t want it baking a room that you then just have to cool down,” she said.
Throughout the project, “my goal was to keep the building looking nice, make everything more comfortable and still keep the feeling of the inn the same.”
Champion’s Biggest Tip
“Talk with the financing arm well in advance,” she said. “With the PACE program being new, it was surprising how much they didn’t know about what they didn’t know.”
For more information about the PACE program in Florida, visit floridapace.gov.