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Posted on 12-02-2016

SOLAR PANEL BECOMING STANDARD FEATURE FOR HOMEBUILDERS

by Shen Ge

Smaller footprints and greener features ranked at the top of the trends list among the 2015 National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey. 74 percent of respondents said that their next homes would be smaller while 68 percent of respondents said that their homes would get greener in 2015, trends which far surpass the others on the survey. This corresponds with the growing interest by homebuilders. According to Energy Wire, homebuilders and industry experts say the number of newly constructed homes with a solar energy system preinstalled is surging, from as little as a few hundred units a decade ago to tens of thousands of units entering the market today. According to newly published data from McGraw Hill Construction and the National Association of Homebuilders, more than half of all U.S. homebuilders are expected to offer solar PV energy systems as an option in new single-family homes by 2016, up from just 12 percent in 2013.

“Solar panels are a very visible manifestation of a home’s construction,” Kevin Morrow, NAHB’s director of sustainability and green building, said in an interview. “Increasingly, people understand what they can do for them, either by reducing their environmental footprint or by reducing their energy costs.”

Lashing panels to roofs during construction is about 20 percent cheaper than after a house is built. Homeowners can choose to spend the extra $10,000 to $20,000 cost in return for free power. A 3-kilowatt system, enough to power a typical mid-size home, costs less than $15,000 and can be rolled into a mortgage, said Tom Werner, CEO of San Jose, California-based SunPower. That’s similar to how some buyers decided to pay $5,000 or $10,000 for a kitchen countertop that would be from natural materials and would outlast a Formica-style top.

Top Homebuilders

Lennar, the nation’s second-largest home builder, has more than 100 developments in California, 11 in Colorado and a handful in Nevada. Almost all their new houses have solar panels. The company plans to expand the program to more states, focusing on locations that have programs to encourage renewable energy.

“We aren’t offering homes with solar as an option—it’s a standard feature in certain communities,” said David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, which oversees the builder’s solar project.

Lennar allows buyers to decide whether to purchase the system and generate their own electricity, or lease the system from a Lennar subsidiary, which retains ownership of the equipment and sells the power to the homeowner at prices Lennar promises will be 20% cheaper than the local utility’s.

Lennar is not alone. Meritage Homes Corp. of Scottsdale, Arizona, the nation’s ninth largest homebuilder by volume, has a partnership with SunPower Corp. of San Jose, California to provide solar-ready homes to customers across its eight-state market from North Carolina to California, with applications ranging from small-scale solar water heaters to large rooftop arrays capable of powering all of a home’s major systems.

“For most of our customers that choose to go solar, it boils down to a simple financial play, just like better windows or better insulation,” Herro said. “It creates value in your home and lowers your operating costs.”

When factoring overall energy savings, Herro said such systems can be “cash-positive from day one,” meaning the additional monthly mortgage costs are lower than what the homeowner would have paid for electricity in a conventional grid-connected home. Recently, on February 10, 2015, KB Home, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, announced the grand opening of its newest Phoenix-area community, Copper Ranch Villas, which not only will have appliances be ENERGY STAR certified but also give homebuyers the option to include solar power systems.

Government Support

In his May 9, 2014 executive order aimed at expanding solar power and energy efficiency in the United States, President Obama applauded the efforts of two dozen homebuilders that have committed to building solar homes, including a private-sector program by 22 firms to build nearly 10,000 solar-equipped houses as part of an effort to advance zero-net-energy housing. California has been leading this trend locally. R. Rex Parris, the mayor of Lancaster, California, pushed through legislation in March 2013 requiring the equivalent of at least 1 kilowatt of solar power on all new homes starting next year. About 97 percent of city buildings are considered “net zero,” producing as much power as they consume, he said. The entire city, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, may be net-zero within three years, he said. Sebastopol, California, a town about 55 miles north of San Francisco, passed a similar measure in May 2013 that applies to new residential and commercial buildings.

As a homebuilder, you may be interested in working with Simplify Solar on adding solar panels to your new homes. Feel free to contact us at 1-877-786-0759 or info@simplifysolar.com for more information.

Interested in more of Shen Ge’s posts on solar energy and other energy-related posts? Follow the author on Twitter @shenge86.

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