Real hardwood flooring, stainless steel appliances, and his-and-hers bathrooms all are desirable to buyers of new production homes, but the biggest draw right now is energy efficiency—meaning Energy Star-rated appliances, smart thermostats, and a solar array on the roof, according to the latest reports.
Indeed, based on data provided by the California Solar Initiative (CSI),sales of new production homes with rooftop solar power systems nearly doubled between 2011 and 2012, signaling increasing home buyer interest in controlling monthly electricity costs and “going green.”
An estimated 4,000 new production solar homes were built in California last year– ten times the number built just seven years ago during the housing construction boom. And two of America’s largest solar companies—San Jose, California-based SunPower Corporation, a manufacturer of photovoltaic solar roof modules and tiles; and SolarCity (News - Alert), a San Francisco-based firm that designs, finances and installs solar systems—are not letting the opportunity pass them by.
In May 2013, the National Association of Home Builders released the results of a U.S. survey on “What Home Buyers Really Want,” a report aimed at providing the most current and accurate information on home buyer. Above, a figure from the report, courtesy of NAHB.
SunPower Celebrates 10,000 Installations
SunPower currently is working with major production homebuilders, such as KB Home–a Los Angeles-based construction outfit that claims to have built “the most solar-powered production homes in California in 2012”— as well as Richmond American Homes, Lennar and Pulte. SunPower estimates that strong growth in the sector will continue, with more than 20 percent of new production homes being solar powered this year.
Underscoring the trend, SunPower announced this week that it is installing the company's 10,000th high-efficiency solar power system on a new production home in San Diego. To celebrate the milestone, SunPower will provide an upgraded solar system on the home, which is being purchased by Justin Levine and Bethany Rutstein, who are simultaneously planning their June wedding.
"When you're watching your monthly expenses carefully, choosing a home with solar is a no-brainer. We chose to build our new solar-powered home with KB Home because we were able to personalize nearly every aspect of our new home, including its energy efficiency through a process KB calls Built to Order," said Rutstein. "The SunPower system is designed to generate all of the power we'll need, and we'll get a fair credit from our utility company for the excess energy it produces. This will leave more in our budget for groceries, car expenses and other needs."
"KB Home has partnered with SunPower to build more than 1,500 solar homes across the country, and we see very high levels of satisfaction with our solar homeowners," said Steve Ruffner, president of KB Home, Southern California. "For KB Home, building solar powered homes is a priority because of the value they provide to homeowners in terms of potential energy and cost savings. In addition to the monthly savings that Justin and Bethany will be able to enjoy, their SunPower system could increase the future re-sale value of the home."
But the trend is not just limited to California. Just three weeks ago, SolarCity announced a new partnership with Wilshire Homes, which is building a LEED-certified development called Woodside Village near San Antonio, Texas.
“As the only production builder in the San Antonio area to follow LEED-certified mandates, our collaboration with SolarCity dovetails nicely with our goal to build a home that leaves a minimal footprint on the environment,” commented Ken Gezella, division sales manager for Wilshire Homes in San Antonio.
Homebuyers can choose between a 2-, 4-, or 6-kilowatt (kW) solar system for their new homes. The savings from solar at Woodside Village are estimated to range from more than $300 a year for a basic 2-kW system to more than $945 a year with a 6-kW array.
SolarCity will custom-design and install each solar system at Woodside before the homebuyer moves in. SolarCity also offers real-time monitoring and a personalized MySolarCity web portal to homebuyers, so that they can view their electricity consumption and their solar system energy production online.
“Not only are our homes up to 30 percent more energy-efficient than equivalent, non-LEED-certified homes, but each is verified through a third-party inspection,” Gezella said.
In addition, SolarCity is working with Walnut, California-based Shea Homes, one of the largest private homebuilders in the nation, with more than 90,000 homes already constructed and sold.
Rick Andreen, president of Shea Homes Active Lifestyle, explained the motivating factor behind SheaXero model, which offers solar arrays on roofs: “Independence – our customers don’t want to be tied to electricity bills, which over the last ten years have increased at twice the rate of inflation, for the rest of their lives,” he said, adding, “SheaXero homes not only eliminate the impact of energy rate hikes for individuals, they also help homeowners and builders become part of a goal to help the country achieve energy independence, (using less electricity, not relying so heavily on foreign oil).”
The SheaXero homes have been successfully integrated in Shea Active Lifestyle communities in Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington State and Florida. However, actually achieving net zero is not without complexity. Andreen explained how Shea’s customers, whose average age is 58, are part of the success equation: “They are the ideal audience – informed, frugal, and able to really take advantage of the tools we’ve provided them to take control of their home’s energy use.”
“We approach the issue from two sides,” Andreen stated. “First, we reduce the energy demands of the homes— through measures like high performance insulation, energy efficient windows, energy smart appliances — and then we produce enough clean energy from solar photovoltaic panels to take care of basic electricity needs.”
“Our members often come in to brag about how they owe nothing on their monthly utility bills,” Andreen said. “We love it when they do that.”
Shea Homes is listed on the 55Places.com website, which provides details on over 800 home developments nationwide in the United States for the over-55 demographic.
Bill Ness, president of the company, told Green Technology World, “We’ve seen a lot of 55-plus developers that are now offering solar as a standard or low-cost option. This trend is very big across the Southwest right now and the more mature buyers are looking for smart savings. With solar, they know they will be protected from outages, save money, and help the country achieve energy independence. Who wouldn’t take that instead of a his-and-hers bathroom layout?”
Edited by Blaise McNamee