East Naples businessman builds steel solar home, offered at an affordable price
Jim Henderson has built his dream home.
But it's not for him — or even anyone in his family.
The longtime East Naples businessman built the home so he could offer it as a more affordable and environmentally friendly place to live in Collier County.
Henderson, owner of William C. Huff Cos., a moving and storage business for the well-to-do, plans to sell the house to one of his crew leaders for $300,000.
"He's a local person — born and raised here," Henderson said. "He loves working with us and we love him. We're glad to be able to find something he can afford and be close to where he works."
Henderson showed off the innovative house, powered by the sun, at a dedication ceremony Tuesday.
"I've been here 25 years. This is a dream project that has come together," Henderson told the small but enthusiastic crowd that gathered for the event.
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The dedication included a ribbon-cutting with community leaders and advocates of solar power and affordable housing. One of those leaders, state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, said the home is "one step in the right direction."
"I think he's on to something here," Donalds said of Henderson. "I'm a huge fan of disruptors."
Henderson hopes to see many more homes built like his first one, not just locally, but around the country.
He built the prototype single-family home — made out of metal — because he grew tired of seeing so many workers in town, including teachers, firefighters, nurses and other essential employees, struggling to find an obtainable place to live in the county.
"We're going to lose some of the essential workers. We already are," Henderson said.
The design for the three-bedroom, two-bathroom steel frame home was inspired by Henderson's newest addition to his company's warehouse.
He won't profit from the project, but the lessons learned are "worth a lot, way more than any profit could have been on it," he said.
The first project, Henderson said was overbuilt.
"With what we learned, we will be able to save money and we will be able to show it is something that can be brought to market very affordably," he said.
In case you missed it: East Naples businessman building steel home
A solar advocate
A big proponent of solar power, Henderson installed a powerful solar system on the roof of his company's headquarters in an industrial hub off Progress Avenue. The system — the largest of its kind in the county — powers a 34,000-square-foot building and a 10,000-square-foot warehouse expansion the company completed in 2017.
Like the warehouse addition, the home is made from pre-engineered, pre-insulated steel panels. Henderson used the same building materials, supplied by Star Building Systems in Oklahoma City, for both projects.
Henderson estimates the monthly mortgage payment for the new home at $1,300. That compares to $3,700 to rent the average house and $1,700 to rent a smaller two-bedroom apartment, with one bathroom, in Collier County, he said.
According to the latest report by Florida Realtors, the median price for existing homes, or resales, in Collier County rose by more than 4% to $499,500 in April. The median is the price at which half the homes sell for more and half for less.
Housing affordability isn't Henderson's only big concern.
He's also worried about the local environment, as the county continues to grow and expand east.
As an avid fisherman, Henderson said he's noticed the local waters aren't as clear as in years past — and like many local residents he remains anxious about the return of red tide.
"It's been in the paper. It's been in the news and it's a big thing to me," he said of the water woes.
With a roof and walls of steel and storm-resistant windows and doors, the home has been built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane with 180 mph winds.
"This is not going anywhere in a hurricane," Henderson said.
He touted the home's other benefits, including the ease of maintaining it. Essentially, Henderson said, the house can take care of itself.
Solar panels on the roof of the 1,500-square-foot home produce more power than the home needs, which will allow the owner to send energy back into the power grid and greatly reduce his monthly electric bill, Henderson said.
Twenty solar panels on the roof produce 6.4 kilowatts of power, which on average is expected to generate 24kwh per day. That's enough to cover power bills in the range of $100 to $130 per month.
"We make so much electricity here, it's almost like a factory," Henderson said.
With the installation of a simple adapter, he said, the owner of the home could charge an electric car and never have to pay a gas bill.
Project goes smoothly
Construction of the home, at 213 Benson St., off U.S. 41, southeast of Naples, began a little over a year ago. The project went pretty smoothly, with only a few setbacks, including a late delivery of glass windows, Henderson said.
No wood was used in the structure, so Henderson said termites would "starve to death" if they ever got inside the home.
The house doesn't have soffit or any exterior openings in any part of the walls or roofing, and there isn't an attic, making it waterproof, Henderson said.
"There are no trusses. All of the other houses require trusses," he said.
Recent data shows there's been a 15% increase in building metal homes, although they're still few and far between when compared to the number of traditional homes.
Jane Henderson, a district manager for Star Building Systems, said the price for supplies becomes more affordable with more volume. While steel prices have increased over the past few years due to new tariffs, she said it hasn't curbed demand.
"Honestly it's coming up," she said of demand. "It's moving forward."
With a modern industrial feel, the house has exposed metal beams throughout and vaulted ceilings. It was staged by a local interior designer, with simplicity in mind.
Henderson has formed JLH Sustainable Housing to design and build more sustainable projects, but he emphasized his company won't actually build the homes, leaving that to experienced contractors and subcontractors.
His new company will focus on selling the concept and coordinating the development of the engineered system that includes the solar power and steel.
Henderson chose steel for its durability — and he likes that most of it's recycled.
Also, there's little waste with the assembly of the home.
"There are no mistakes," Henderson said. "I mean it just goes together and that's it."
Spreading the word
JLH is still building its digital platform to help spread the word about its prototype home and the services the company can offer to interested builders who want to jump on the bandwagon.
Locally, Henderson has been in talks with representatives for Habitat for Humanity in Collier County about forming a partnership to build four more homes like his first one. He doesn't expect an answer on his proposal until July.
In an email, Cormac Giblin, the county's housing, grant development and operations manager, described the prototype home as a great concept that's waterproof, windproof, fireproof and insect-proof.
"Maintenance, upkeep and recurring expenses, like power and insurance, all factor into a home’s affordability. With a product that has virtually no power bill, significant insurance savings, and little to no maintenance required, it allows buyers to stretch their housing dollars further," he said.
Henderson qualified to have his building permits and inspections fast-tracked in the county, which helped speed up the building schedule.
By selling the home to an employee with a moderate income, the house also qualified for a deferral of impact fees, reducing final costs by a little more than $21,000, Giblin said.
"We’d love to keep working with Jim as his 'real-world' data and costs start to come in from this prototype, and stay involved as he looks to bring his ideas to full scale production of homes or neighborhoods," he said.