Saint Cloud, Florida [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] A new program available to home builders in Florida will provide rebate checks for every new home built with a solar thermal hot water system. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unveiled SunBuilt Gold, the latest program to expand solar energy technology in communities throughout the sunshine state .A partnership between DEP, the Florida Home Builders Association and the Florida Solar Energy Research and Education Foundation (FlaSEREF), Sunbuilt Gold provides rebate checks to home builders who install solar hot water heaters in newly constructed homes. “Adopting clean energy technology protects Florida’s air quality and the health and prosperity of Florida’s citizens and economy,” said Allan Bedwell, who is the deputy secretary for DEP Regulatory Programs and Energy. “Through SunBuilt, homes across Florida will use solar technology, highlighting new energy innovations, environmental protection and saving homeowners money.” SunBuilt Builders are eligible for a $400 rebate for each home built equipped with a solar thermal system for heating the home’s hot water. A traditional water heater serves as a backup supply of hot water on overcast or rainy days. Benefiting both the economy and the environment, the amount of energy generated annually by a single solar water heater is equal to two barrels of oil, lessening the state’s dependence on petroleum imports, according to the DEP To become a SunBuilt Builder, a builder must be a current member of the Florida Home Builders Association, sign the SunBuilt pledge, use approved solar water heaters and contractors and participate in a home energy efficiency program. Builders who pledge to install solar water heaters on all new homes are classified as Gold Level builders and are eligible to receive a free solar water heater for their model home. To help kick off the program, America’s Homes President Luis Diaz was certified as the first Gold Level home builder, pledging to install solar water heaters in 100 percent of new home construction. Silver level builders pledge to offer solar heaters as an option in their new construction. “For me, conservation means more than the requisite energy saving efforts,” said Luis Diaz president of America’s Homes. “My choices consider what benefits customers the most economically and environmentally. We’ve met Energy Star standards in our homes for awhile now. With SunBuilt we’ve taken it to the next level by including solar water heating in each home. I believe that makes a statement beyond economic savings, beyond upgrading one electric appliance for another – it says I’m concerned, I’m economically smart, and I’m doing my part. What could be better?” According to FlaSEREF Executive Director Colleen Kettles, America’s Homes becomes one of just two builders in the nation installing these systems in every home they build. The SunBuilt program expands DEP’s current solar energy programs. Over the last year, the Department unveiled SunSmart Schools to install solar electric units in Florida’s public schools and Front Porch Sunshine, which installs solar water heaters in weatherized low-income homes.