San Diego's Ocean Beach

Gingerbread House

Beach and Bay Press, 2003
by Jim Kelly

Mike Turk in front of one of his energy-efficient homesFor over seven decades what has come to be known as the Gingerbread House towered majestically over Malden Street, just down the road from the Soledad Club in Pacific Beach.

Bounties of nuts and fruit poured forth from the large gardens on the land and birds found a welcoming home there.

But the years wore on like cotton and the Gingerbread House grew old and accustomed to neglect.

The gardens became shrouded in weeds and fruitless orange trees bent downward as the house withdrew from the neighborhood like a dowager queen.

For the last two years of its life, the home sat vacant and was finally bulldozed into a scar in August. This might have been viewed as a hapless ending to a grand structure were it not for the promise of great things still to come.

On the 25,000 square foot lot where the Gingerbread House once prospered, four new homes are in the planning stage.

The artful enterprise of Michael Turk, owner of KD Development in Pacific Beach will be employed to construct these homes using photovoltaic energy cells, energy-efficient construction and hydronic heating systems.

Photovoltaic energy (PV) occurs when sunlight hits a solar cell.

The material in the cell absorbs light particles (photons) and when the photons are absorbed, they start a process of freeing electrons in the material of the solar cell.

Both sides of the solar cell have wires and a current starts to flow when the photons are absorbed. This current is used to power electrical devices in a home (or elsewhere) and any excess electricity is fed back into the surrounding power grid.

While PV sounds like space-age technology (and is) it was actually first developed by the French experimental physicist, Edmund Becquerel, in 1839.

Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with an electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes placed in an electricity-conducting solution. He discovered power from the electrodes increased when the solution was exposed to light.

Hydronics refers to a system of heating or cooling involving the transfer of heat by circulating a fluid (as water or vapor) in a closed system of pipes. It uses the energy already produced by the water heater so there is no need for natural gas.

According to Turk, the super efficient forced-air systems consistently beat the new tough energy standards by 30 percent and sometimes are able to reach 50 percent.

PB is becoming the solar capital of southern California and Turk gives a lot of the credit for this to San Diego’s mayor, Dick Murphy, and to District Two Councilman, Michael Zucchet.

"This mayor has really embraced the concept of energy conservation," said Turk, who has been building energy-efficient homes for 27 years.

This view is supported by the Mayor’s web site which states, "Establishing the City's Energy Program within the Department of Environmental Services sends a clear message that energy use is not just a financial issue, but also an environmental issue.

The use of energy from traditional fossil fuel-power generating facilities is responsible for numerous air pollutants with impacts to the global climate.

By decreasing the demand for energy from these sources and increasing the use of clean, renewable resources, the City of San Diego sets itself apart as a national leader for a sustainable future.

The City is conserving electricity at unprecedented rates, generating electricity, and having assured reliable energy sources for vital City functions."

As for Zucchet, Turk has become an admirer, even though he was a supporter of the councilman’s opponent when Zucchet ran for office.

"Mike Zucchet has been the greatest guy. He’s really smart and understands the issues because he used to work for the Department of Energy," Turk said.

Zucchet seems to have the same opinion of Turk.

"Mike Turk should be commended for his environmentally responsible building. I seldom encounter a developer who cares as much as Mike does in creating a project that is both environmentally sound and cost efficient," he said when asked about the builder.

Turk has 34 energy efficient projects under construction in the City of San Diego and one in the county. He attributes this disparity to his friend, Donna Frye, who once told him, "stay within the belt... stay away from sprawl."

Adhering to her advice, Turk reclaims land not being utilized. "I don’t go out and take unspoiled places and develop them," he said.

He also has a philosophy that echoes the legacy of the Gingerbread House.

"If I can build a home with the same square footage that uses half or less than half the normal energy required, I call that the ‘low-hanging-fruit philosophy.’ You always want to take the lowest hanging fruit from the tree."

So, instead of growing oranges, Turk is helping to give energy back to the community.