G-WIZ was in hot water. The soaring glass pyramid that dominates its foyer and the glass walls that face Sarasota Bay acted as a solar collector that drove up the hands-on science museum's electric costs to more than $7,000 a month-no small sum for a nonprofit organization with a $1.1 million annual budget.
So development director Donna Wolski last fall sent an urgent S.O.S to the Winsulator, a.k.a. Ed VerVane, founder and CEO of Sarasota-based South Sun Energy Conservations. (VerVane, a man so fervent about the energy saving potential of the product he spent five years designing, actually has been known to dress up in a superhero costume with a big white "W" on the chest to promote the Winsulator at business networking functions.)
The Winsulator, VerVane explains, is a custom-built clear acrylic panel with a metal channel that affixes magnetically to the inside of an existing window. The airspace that's created allows heat to escape outside through the glass, not inside through the plastic. The panel blocks out 95 percent of harmful UV rays and reduces outside noise by 60 percent, an attractive side benefit for children's museums like G-WIZ. The product is manufactured at South Sun Energy Conservations' plant on East Avenue.
Wolski was directed to VerVane's company by the Florida Energy Office after the state agency conducted a free energy audit of G-WIZ. (The Winsulator earned an approved product certification from the FEO when it tested three homes retrofitted by VerVane and found a 29 percent reduction in window-related energy consumption for heating and cooling.) Now, with a $92,451 grant from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation and an additional $10,000 of in-kind materials donated by VerVane, Winsulator panels are going up on all 291 windows at G-WIZ.
The Winsulator has caught the eye of the U.S. military, too. Tampa Electric Company officials were so enthusiastic about a test window he installed in a TECO center in 2001 they referred him to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, which hired him to retrofit 17 buildings in an eight-month, $1.2 million project. That led to a contract with the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, and another with the Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Oahu, which will commence later this year.
Among his other installations: the Sarasota County Judicial Center, the Osprey schoolhouse at Historic Spanish Point, the Selby and Fruitville public libraries, and an administration building at the Kennedy Space Center-so well received that NASA nominated him for a Small Business Subcontractor of the Year award.
In 1993, his first year of manufacturing the Winsulator, VerVane grossed under $40,000. In 2002, he grossed more than $1 million. "We went from our first five-window project to over 5,000 windows between the Jacksonville and Charleston naval projects," says VerVane. "We wanted to shout, 'We're here!'"