A yellow house going green
Virgil “Zeke” Thomas is a walking, talking, animated encyclopedia on solar power, not to mention wind, and maybe even water next. He’s refitting his Port Charlotte home through a unique green energy book — for pennies on the dollar — a book he’s writing himself day by day.
Thomas, 78, a native of Vermont, a pilot for 40 years, and a retiree from the Air Force Reserve and the Navy, still flies search and rescue sorties weekly for the Coast Guard out of St. Petersburg, covering territory from the Panhandle to Everglades City.
But he has a whole new passion in life: green energy, plus a mission to share his expertise, free, with other Charlotte residents who may be hesitating to take the plunge into solar and wind because of the cost.
Hearing his sermon, delivered fervently from a makeshift pulpit in his garage, and envisioning him scrambling around his rooftop installing low-cost, self-constructed solar panels, lends a particular credibility to the mission.
His garage is a mind-boggling mixture of energy feeds from roof solar panels into controllers, inverters and batteries connected in series, as well as structures-in-the-making, including the last of five 12-foot wind turbine blades to be installed in his backyard. They’re made of scrap cedar clapboards from a lumber yard. It would have cost “two fortunes,” he said, if he had to buy the blades ready made.
Patriotism being one of his many passions after six years in the Air Force Reserve and six more in the Navy, Thomas muses that he may paint the blades red, white and blue, and call them “my rotating flag.” Blades this large, he said, rotate slowly and make little, if any, noise.
His solar panels were constructed from discarded glass from damaged home slider doors, acquired at little cost from Habitat for Humanity and window repair stores, plus inexpensive lanai frame material from Lowes and Home Depot.
The batteries, borrowed from his boat and charged during the day by the sun, power lights and the television used at night by Thomas and his wife of 58 years, Jan. They grew up and met in Vermont, married in their teens, and lived in Connecticut for 40 years, where he ran a home electronics repair service.
“We always wanted to move to Florida,” he said. They did so in 2003 to Port Charlotte, to the same home they live in today on Auburn Boulevard.
There are obviously no laid-back genes in Zeke Thomas. The home is emblazoned in glowing yellow paint with bright orange trim, like a giant blooming flower, in stark contrast to the far more sedate hues of other homes in the neighborhood. “I flew for the Navy in Bermuda,” Thomas smiled. “I like color. It’s part of my life.”
So is energy, both the science and his own perpetual motion. “Going green saves energy,” he says, “and it saves money, and that’s green, too. Florida is 98 percent sun, and that’s free. I want to help people save money. I’m not much in some forms of charity, but this is my charity.” He urged people to call him at 941-743-4023.
“I want to show people how easy it is. You don’t even need a lot of tools. You pay through the nose buying it, but yes, you can do it yourself. The proof is in the pudding,” he says, displaying his all-electric house energy bills, totaling $134 for December through March this past season. It will be a lot less, he says, when his wind power kicks in.
However, he admits, albeit reluctantly, that in the green energy business, knowledge of math, science and applied physics is essential. “That’s what it’s all about. A lot of my work is experimental,” he acknowledged.
“But I can still show people how to do it.”