Habitat home off the grid – Molokai first photovoltaics house

Habitat home off the grid

Molokai house first to be powered by photovoltaics

Volunteers work on the photovoltaic system on top of the Kaai home in Hoolehua, Molokai, recently. RevoluSun donated labor and time and gave the Kaais a price break on the system for the home, which was built with the Molokai Habitat for Humanity program.
RevoluSun photo

A couple of firsts were celebrated on Molokai.

Lifelong renters David and Liz Kaai and their four children now own their own home; and it is the first “off-the-grid” home built for Habitat for Humanity anywhere in the nation.

“To have the opportunity to show Hawaii we can build an affordable off-the-grid home is truly wonderful,” said Emillia Noordhoek, resource development director for Molokai Habitat for Humanity.

She said the Kaais’ Hoolehua home is equipped with a SunPower photovoltaic system that generates the electricity for the 1,200-square-foot house, so there will be no electricity bills to pay, saving the Kaais at least several hundred dollars a month. The home cost around $112,000 because of the upgrade. Habitat homes on Molokai usually cost around $75,000 to $85,000, Noordhoek said.

A dedication and blessing was held Friday for the 19th home built by Molokai Habitat for Humanity. Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses with the help of the homeowner (partner) families. Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit, financed with affordable loans.

The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments are used to build still more Habitat houses. In addition to a down payment and the monthly mortgage payments, homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor – sweat equity – into building their Habitat house and the houses of others, according to Molokai Habitat’s website.

“We wanted more for ourselves and our children, so Habitat was the way to go,” said Liz Kaai, a homemaker, whose husband is a bus driver. “Habitat was the ‘bomb,’ and we love the volunteer process because it has allowed us to contribute sweat equity to a home we can call ours,” she added.

The Kaais plan to move into their new home in a few weeks.

Community assistance also played a role in bringing the photovoltaic system to the Kaais’ home. RevoluSun, an Oahu-based residential solar company, donated time and labor for the installation of the system, which generates 21 kWh of electricity per day and is backed up by three days of battery storage.

“We are glad to have the opportunity to give back to the community,” said Eric Carlson, one of the owners of RevoluSun.

He said the donated time and labor would normally cost $10,000 to $15,000. The Kaais also were given a discounted price of $44,000 for the system. Carlson added that the $44,000 was $14,000 higher than the $30,000 the Kaais would have needed to pay for a conventional electrical system but said there will be savings in the future.

“It is definitely cheaper in the long run. They will not have a continuing rising electric bill for the life of the home,” he said.

In addition to the battery backup, a diesel generator system that can be turned on when there are prolonged periods of cloudy days will be installed.

Noordhoek said even though the photovoltaic system cost more upfront, the Kaais opted for the system because the Hawaiian Homelands subdivision they were building in does not have complete utilities. That’s why the conventional electrical installation costs would have been so high.

Carlson said that even though his company is only 2 years old, it has already given out two systems for free in addition to helping out with the Kaai home.

“Honestly, it’s a way to spread the message, and it’s an opportunity to get more solar out there. It’s a feel-good thing. We are local here and want to give back to the community.”

He added that he and his company want to show that there is an alternative to fossil fuel power generation. Not only is it clean, but he thinks it’s a smart way to go financially.

Carlson said the project also received help from Young Brothers, which shipped the system for free, and from Solar Supply on Oahu for the logistics and design of the system.

Noordhoek said Habitat would like to do more homes that are off the grid, as costs on Molokai are extremely high compared to other places in Hawaii.

She added that there is another home being built that is “completely of the grid” that includes the home’s own well and catchment system and photovoltaic system.

Since 1998, Molokai Habitat for Humanity has been an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International.

To be chosen for a home, families need to have incomes between 25 percent and 60 percent of the gross median income for Maui County; have the ability to repay a 20-year, zero interest loan; and contribute 700 “sweat equity” hours toward building their home as well as the homes of other Molokai Habitat families.