Tallahassee Cossons to retire in DeFuniak’s first solar-powered home

Dan and Sherry Cosson’s retirement plans are modest ones, but with a twist.
The Tallahassee couple wants to do some traveling, sure, but mostly they aim to enjoy the easier pace of life in historic downtown DeFuniak Springs in Dan’s grandmother’s home on Live Oak Avenue. They also plan to get their electricity free or almost-free thanks to southward-facing arrays of 54 solar panels on their roof.

Though the initial expense of installing the 15 kilowatt-hour system isn’t exactly pocket change, the decision to have their retirement home become the first solar-powered house in the city makes perfect sense for the financially conservative and conservationist-minded Cossons.
“There are few things you can do to help the environment and help your pocketbook at the same time, and this is one of them,” Dan Cosson said. “If we’re responsible human beings we should try to minimize our carbon footprint, but you can get your electricity for free, why not? It seems like the right thing to do environmentally and financially too.”
The Cossons are paying for everything related to the home restoration project out-of-pocket, and thus have been working on the pioneer-era Lakeyard home commonly known as the “Old Cosson House” for about a year. Fond memories of boyhood summertime visits to DeFuniak fueled Dan’s desire to have a house that is simultaneously energy efficient and aesthetically “just right” too, even if it takes a little longer that way.
“Our goal is to return the house to its original state and make it a plus for the neighborhood,” Dan said. “We want to have a home that fits in with the historical character of the community while also drastically reducing our power bill with the solar system. We’re going all-out, not sparing any expense to get this house just how we want it.”
Al Simpler, company founder and systems designer of Simpler Solar Systems, Inc., also of Tallahassee, and the lead contractor on electric side of the Cossons’ home remodeling project, said the Cossons originally wanted a system rated for a little less than 10kW, which usually runs about $15,000. However, once he visited the house to take measurements the Cossons really got fired up, asking for as many solar panels as could be fit on their roof, he said. Typically, a 5kW system provides sufficient power for a 3,000-square-foot home, but Dan, who works as a property manager, wanted a 15kW system to accommodate his future plans of building rental homes on the back of his property and tying them into the solar grid as well.
Simpler said the end result, once work on the house is complete with all the high-efficiency appliances, insulation and windows, will be that the Cossons can expect to pay 40 percent less for their electricity per month than a house of equivalent size. The power generated by the solar system can be sold back to the power company for further savings.
Other financially sound reasons for a solar upgrade include a 30-percent federal tax credit and a 7-percent local sales tax and an ad valorem exemption. That is, while a solar system is a true upgrade to the home, the cost of the upgrade to solar power is not assessed as part of the home’s taxable value, thanks to state energy incentives. Simpler said those interested in upgrading to solar should do so within the next few months if they still want to be eligible for the federal 30-percent tax credit when filing taxes in January.
“Solar is as close as you can get to perfect power,” Simpler said. “99.3 percent of all power generated is used right there on the house. It also means more grid security and you don’t get the interference from other users causing power surges. You’re running on a 99 percent purer sign-wave than ‘trashy’ electric signal that comes from transformers.”
Although the Cossons are looking at about 24 months before their retirement, Dan said he and Sherry visit DeFuniak often to check on the progress of construction at what he said will be their last house. The couple is looking forward to retiring in DeFuniak, far away from the daily grind of their working life in the state capital. Paying less for an electric bill is just the finishing touch on making that dream a reality.
“We love DeFuniak, we absolutely love it,” Dan said. “The people over there are fantastic. Downtown reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s like the ideal Mayberry-type place to retire. Tallahassee has been good to us, but it ain’t Mayberry.”