Next week, KB Home plans to open a model home in Waldorf targeting the increasingly eco-friendly and cost-conscious consumer who has emerged in wake of the housing slump spurred by the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It is the first uber-green house that the Los Angeles-based firm has built on the East Coast.
The model, experts say, illustrates a shift in how houses will be built. The builder isn’t so much playing up the big lot and spacious interior that appealed to buyers a few years ago, even though the house has both. The main selling point is the variety of innovations aimed at saving homeowners 50,000 gallons of water a year and reducing electric bills to practically nothing.
Built-in features of the “net-zero” house — a sort of Energy-Star-on-steroids designation that means the house produces more energy than it expends — include solar panels, a water-saving irrigation system and a charging station for an electric vehicle in the garage. The house even has a monitoring system that allows homeowners to keep tabs on their energy consumption in real time via their smartphones, tablet computers and TVs.
These features to a varying degree are currently available mainly in the custom-home market. But the Waldorf house demonstrates how green is migrating into the mainstream.
“Taking a house from energy efficiency to net zero is a dramatic change,” said Doug Moran, president of KB Home’s Washington region.
“Becoming more environmentally friendly has been the focus of the country,” Moran added. “We want to give people a vision of where we think home building will be in a few years.”
Thus far, net-zero houses are a very tiny segment — perhaps as small as 1 percent — of the market.
Production of energy from solar panels, one of the largest components of the green-home movement, is growing. The amount of megawatts produced by home solar panels rose 104 percent in 2010, 109 percent in 2011 and is expected to increase 75 percent this year, according to Boston-based GTM Research, a consulting firm that tracks the industry for the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Moreover, 16,000 additional existing and new homes installed the panels during the first quarter of 2012, up from 11,800 in 2011 and 11,700 in 2010, according to the firm.
“The vast majority of new installation has been on existing homes — far more than new homes,” said Shayle Kann, GTM’s vice president for research. One factor in the rapid increase “in residential solar is the cost [of installation] is falling very, very rapidly.”