Are consumers willing to spend more for renewable energy?
In December, the company unveiled what it called net-zero production homes in California at its Whistler Ridge community in Lake Forest.
"Net-zero is a more difficult process in California because our homes have gas," Craig LeMessurier, a KB Home spokesperson said. "So, what we have to do is get to a negative number on the electrical equation to pay for the gas so it's net zero."
That means the solar panels on the homes produce an excess of energy, which can be sold to the local utility. Or, as LeMessurier noted, "California Edison will buy the power back at the end of the year if you have a net credit. That's how we get to net zero. The homes use electricity, but they also manufacture electricity."
LeMessurier added, "We also do a lot to the house structurally from the standpoint of insulation, windows, roofing, etc., to get more efficient. It's not just about solar. It's a process, not an event."
All that generally means the basic cost of a home will be more expensive. To make its new residences net zero, at Shea Homes, for example, all the cost-savings features and equipment added about $5,000 to the costs.
Which made me wonder, are consumers ready and willing to pay more for a net-zero home?
"Our sales immediately increased by 60 percent in the three weeks since we launched our net-zero homes at our active lifestyle communities, and our traffic increased by 30 percent, Andreen said. "When you visit our houses, we say, 'This is a net-zero home and it will eliminate your electric bill.' That's something tangible. If you can eliminate the $200 or $400 electric bill as an expenditure, people will pay more for that house."
How did KB Home do at Lake Forest?
"When we opened the community, we had 1,000 people in the first few months come out to see it," LeMessurier said. "People are interested and will buy. The math works. Once people get their arms around that concept, they'll start to go toward net zero. We are going to do a couple of more communities."
This leads me to one more conclusion: How do you make new homes more appealing when there are so many cheap, foreclosed homes on the market? One answer is net zero, because to retrofit an older home to get to net zero would be impractically expensive.
So, whether you understand net zero or not, it's a good house to buy.
Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer in Arizona and author of several books. His latest book, "Growing Up Levittown: In a Time of Conformity, Controversy and Cultural Crisis," is now available for sale on Amazon.com.
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