Editor’s Column: House of future takes green to extreme

Sometime in the early 2000s, when I was a Los Angeles-based national correspondent at the Chicago Tribune, I was assigned to cover the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. What was most interesting to me was the product designers’ vision of the house of the future.

The big idea then was accessing music, movies, sports, photos and the Internet from the TV. They were pushing the concept of having multiple screens throughout the house — including one embedded into the door of the refrigerator — so you wouldn’t have to miss a moment of that important game if you didn’t want to wait for the commercial to grab a snack.

That idea, of course, is long outdated, conceived before the widespread use of smart phones, which now allow you to do all that without spending thousands of dollars to rewire your house. Today’s house of the future focuses not on entertainment, but conservation.

For this week’s cover story, I got an exclusive look at a model home in Waldorf built by KB Home that is aimed at saving owners big bucks in electricity and water costs. The solar-powered, “net-zero” house is designed to produce more energy than it uses and save up to 50,000 gallons of water a year.


View Photo Gallery: KB Home is opening a new model home in Waldorf, targeting the growing market of environmentally aware and cost-conscious consumers.

Builders call it a “smart house” because it incorporates just about every green feature you can imagine. For instance, the windows and lights are energy efficient. The water is heated by solar, saving gas costs. Outside, there’s a sprinkler system that irrigates based on weather conditions so you don’t waste water when your lawn doesn’t need it. The yard is landscaped with river birch, American holly, sweet bay magnolia and other plants that don’t need much water.

Moreover, the house is equipped with a monitoring system, accessed via a smart phone or TV, that would give owners a real-time account of how much power the house is producing and how much it is using. If more is being used than produced, owners would be able to make quick adjustments — turning down the air conditioner, turning off lights — to ensure they have a low bill or that they have no bill.

This is the first “net-zero” house that KB Home has built on the East Coast. It’s part of a broad experiment to see whether these uber green features would be accepted by mainstream buyers.

Does this go too far?

Let us know in the comment section what you think of this concept and what you’re doing to save water and electricity.

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