Solar panels brighten up Habitat build

The mood, and the lighting, got a little brighter in the 600 block of Geneva Street on Wednesday where volunteer apprentices from a local carpenters union began installing solar panels on the roof of a new five-unit complex to be owned by low-income families.

It was the latest step in the $1.1-million Habitat for Humanity project, which kicked off June 2011 and is expected to be completed in late spring.

With 1,600 watts per unit, the panels are expected to trim the electricity bill for each family by about 30%, said Scott Payne, a coordinator with the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund.

“We are not only training [our apprentices], but building a Habitat place,” Payne said of the collaboration.

The solar panels were donated by Irwindale-based SunGreen Systems.

The city of Glendale spent $2.5 million to purchase the Geneva Street site, its seventh Habitat for Humanity partnership. The five-unit, 6,250-square-foot complex will be home to five local families who would not have otherwise been able to purchase a home.

The future owners must contribute 500 hours of labor to the build, known as “sweat equity.” They will also pay a mortgage, although less than that of a traditional bank loan.

Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has helped build hundreds of thousands of houses around the world. Many of the projects are done by community volunteers overseen by construction professionals.

Carpenter apprentices are required to complete one week of union-supervised training each quarter, Payne said, so the Geneva Street build has proven to be mutually beneficial.

“We kind of guesstimated what stage of the project would be going at what time, and then we set up classes up so they would come out here and work on beginning framing, advanced framing, roof framing,” Payne said. “It has worked out really well.”

Elaine Wilkerson, a former Glendale planning director who serves on the Habitat for Humanity San Gabriel Valley chapter board of directors, said it is a thrill to watch the project rise up from its foundations.

“It just makes my heart sing because I was involved with the decision about the site when I worked for the city, and then I wound up doing fundraising for Habitat to raise the money,” she said.

Wilkerson and others said they are already looking forward to move-in day.

“I am so thrilled to know the families are going to be in here soon,” she said.

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