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Inside a new disaster-proof neighborhood in Florida, where million-dollar off-grid homes already survived two hurricanes and residents pay no electric bills

Dan Latu   

Inside a new disaster-proof neighborhood in Florida, where million-dollar off-grid homes already survived two hurricanes and residents pay no electric bills
Solar panels on top of homes at Hunters Point.Courtesy of Hunters Point
  • A new community of net-zero homes in Florida is being marketed as nearly disaster-proof.
  • The homes at Hunters Point, which start at $1.4 million, have already withstood two hurricanes.

Florida faces a crisis of rising insurance costs in the face of increasing extreme weather. Already, major insurers have pulled out of the state and Floridians have been hit with skyrocketing home-insurance bills.

One solution, said real-estate developer Marshall Gobuty, is to build more resilient homes.

"People say they build to code, and my answer is 'Great,'" he told Business Insider. "Building over code and doing things that haven't been done — that's something to be proud of."

Enter Hunters Point. An 86-unit community in Cortez, Florida, a hour south of Tampa, created by Gobuty's company, Pearl Homes. Residents first moved into the net-zero single-family homes in 2022, and they have withstood two hurricanes so far while also producing more energy than they consume.

Recently, the carrier Hunters Point used for builders insurance said they weren't writing any new policies, but Gobuty and his team were able to find coverage by showing details of the homes' construction— like ground-floor flood vents that drain water and full-home metal strappings that tie the property together as one unit — that Gobuty believes made them change their mind.

"They're covering us because the way we built our homes," he told BI.

That's significant as major insurers have recently fled Florida over the increased risk. Since 2022, a dozen insurance companies have claimed insolvency, stopped issuing new policies, or withdrawn from the state entirely. The state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is now the top underwriter as private companies leave.

Take a look at the ground-breaking Hunters Point development.

The Hunters Point community sits on a bay separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a barrier island.

The Hunters Point community sits on a bay separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a barrier island.
An aerial view of the Hunters Point development in Cortez, Florida.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

Cortez, Florida — where the Hunters Point development is located — is known for its white-sand beaches and historic fishing villages.

A tiny town of over 4,000 residents, Cortez is an hour south of Tampa, near Bradenton Beach, a popular vacation destination.

Hunters Point developer Marshall Gobuty challenged his team to build homes that were both net-zero and LEED-certified.

Hunters Point developer Marshall Gobuty challenged his team to build homes that were both net-zero and LEED-certified.
Hunters Point and nearby Palma Sola Bay.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

In the past, residential homes have been left behind in the push to build LEED-certified, sustainable developments, Gobuty explained.

"There's a lot of museums and commercial buildings, but residential is really like a step-sister. It's not been traditionally dominant for LEED," he told Business Insider.

LEED is a certification developed by the nonprofit US Green Building Council that verifies a building's sustainable design and efficient energy use, according to the Green Building Council. Net-zero means the the amount of energy a building consumes is equal to the amount of energy it produces through renewable means, according the federal government.

Gobuty's team built the first prototype home in a warehouse.

Gobuty
Homes at Hunters Point.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

The team observed the prototype over 18 months in conditions that recreated the changing seasons before starting construction in the real world.

Gobuty was able to develop homes that actually produce more energy than they consume.

Gobuty was able to develop homes that actually produce more energy than they consume.
Solar panels on top of homes at Hunters Point.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

Gobuty decided he wanted the homes to use a mix of solar and battery energy, choosing the German startup sonnenBatterie to provide the units to power the homes.

"We're generating 35% more power than we modeled and we're consuming 25% less," Gobuty said.

Better insulation also helps the homes conserve energy.

Better insulation also helps the homes conserve energy.
The patio on a Hunters Point property      Courtesy of Hunters Point

Gobuty explained his team used 2×6 insulation boards for the Hunters Point homes instead of the typical 2×4.

"It creates resiliency, strength, and as well keeps this envelope tight," he said.

In fact, when Hunters Point conducted industry-standard "blower door" tests, a diagnostic tool to see how much air escapes the home, they tested tighter than the established rating system, Gobuty said.

Gobuty's team also added double the amount of fill underneath the homes.

Gobuty
Living spaces begin on the second floor of the homes.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

Withstanding major storms was the project's intention from the very beginning, so the homes on Hunters Point start at 16 feet above sea level.

"We built these homes to be able to deal with the climate crisis," Gobuty told Insider.

The first real tests for Hunters Point's homes came in 2022 and 2023.

The first real tests for Hunters Point
The front of Hunters Point homes.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

In 2022, when only three homes were completed, Hurricane Ian struck Florida. A year later, Hurricane Idalia affected more than 20 Hunters Point homes.

"We had a king-size surge that completely covered the docks," Gobuty recalled.

But the homes withstood storms, both labeled category 5 and category 4, respectively.

But the homes withstood storms, both labeled category 5 and category 4, respectively.
Inside one of the Hunters Point homes.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

"We woke up the next morning just like normal," Hunters Point resident William Fulford told the Wall Street Journal in late 2023 about living there during a storm. "It's a damn strong house."

There's no typical profile for Hunters Point residents, Gobuty said.

There
The kitchen and dining area in Hunters Point home      Courtesy of Hunters Point

"There are young families that have bought in that are very sustainability and resiliency-centric, and they love it," Gobuty said. "Then we've got some retirees that just love the fact that they don't have utility bills."

That's right, Hunters Point residents don't pay electric bills.

That
A kitchen in Hunters Point.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

Gobuty explained that every homeowner has a battery specific to their home.

If their home is able to generate $150 worth of power and their utility bill comes in at $150, the state-run Florida Power and Light company issues them a credit that wipes away the cost.

"We haven't had a power bill yet," Fulford, the resident, told the Washington Post earlier this year.

Hunters Point homes currently cost between $1.2 and $1.8 million.

Hunters Point homes currently cost between $1.2 and $1.8 million.
A bedroom in a Hunters Point home.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

Each lot is 3,300 square feet, and each single-family home has an interior space of about 1,650 square feet, according to Fox Business. Some have three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and one half-bathroom, and HOA fees are $450 a month, according to a Zillow listing. The ground floor of the three-story units has a garage with two spaces, per the listing.

Gobuty hopes the development sets a new, cutting-edge standard for sustainable development for Florida.

Gobuty hopes the development sets a new, cutting-edge standard for sustainable development for Florida.
A patio at one of the the Hunters Point homes.      Courtesy of Hunters Point

Hurricane Ian alone destroyed nearly 5,000 homes in Florida in 2022, according to NPR.

Gobuty believes the solution to preventing that from ever happening again starts with intentional design and construction.

"You have to do better you can just do to build the code," Gobuty told BI. "There are responsibilities that you have to have now as home builders."

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