Centex Homes tests Zero Energy House concept in Pleasanton

Centex Homes tests Zero Energy House concept in Pleasanton
source: Katherine Conrad East Bay Business Times 2002.2.18

The first “zero energy house[example 260kb pdf]” built by a commercial builder in Northern California is under construction in Livermore, where David Barclay of Centex Homes is eager to discover how consumers will react to this greenest of green homes.

The 3,070-square-foot house, with photovoltaic panels perched on the roof and special insulation poured into the foundation, will have every environmentally friendly feature that Centex can incorporate. Recycled wood products are being used in framing; windows, appliances and the water heater are all energy efficient; the roof has been coated with a substance to reflect the sun’s rays; fluorescent lights and fans will be installed; and cellulose insulation has been blown into the walls.

Currently, the commercially built home is unique, but those involved in the project hope its construction signals a trend toward “green” building. Pleasanton is considering incorporating green guidelines into its building codes this spring, and other cities, including Dublin and Hayward, may soon follow.

“Pleasanton is sort of a forerunner for midsize cities for formalizing green guidelines into code. There aren’t that many cities nationwide that have done this. Two examples are Boulder, Colo., and Austin, Texas,” said Tricia Maier, a Pleasanton planner.

The South Livermore house was chosen because Centex was eager to
participate in the experiment to discover whether a house could produce all its own energy ­ even in a climate where summer temperatures climb over 100 degrees. Clearly, the house, one of the smaller homes in the development, will cost more to build and so will cost more to buy than other similar-sized homes in Los Olivos. How much more has not been determined, but other homes in the 94-house development will range from $600,000 to more than $900,000.

The question is: Will buyers fork out more money for a home that will cost considerably less than its neighbors to heat and cool?

“This is a test to see if the consumer appreciates the benefits,” said Barclay, president of Centex’s Concord-based Northern California division.

As Barclay emphasized, if the consumer doesn’t “buy in” there is no motivation for builders to build green.

“This is a prototype that will not be offered elsewhere until we know it works,” Barclay said, noting that the environmentally conscious Bay Area is a good place to test such a product.

Centex is the builder, but is not alone on the project. It has partnered with the Alameda County Solid Waste Management Authority, which has developed
green building guidelines recommended for use in all new home construction, and the Davis Energy Group, a 21-year-old energy consulting and engineering firm that is providing $24,000 in federal and state grants as well as expertise on how to build the home to meet the standards of a zero-net energy dwelling.

Centex, which has a history of generous contributions to the Nature
Conservancy, was quick to jump on board when the opportunity to build a prototype home was born out of California’s energy crisis last year. David Springer, president of the Davis Energy Group, said only Centex showed an interest when he began looking for a home builder willing to install his company’s energy-efficient heating and cooling system.

“It takes time, but changes happen. Centex is jumping out ahead of the standards,” Springer said.

Springer understands the importance of marketability of the zero energy homes, but he also knows that no one can buy such homes if they aren’t available. He also is very mindful of the state’s intent to equip 10 percent of all new homes with zero energy systems by 2010.

“It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. If builders are not out there putting solar panels on roofs, then people aren’t going to buy it,” he said.

Wendy Sommer, project manager for the Alameda County Solid Waste
Management Authority, has been working with interested builders for more than two years to develop green building guidelines for new home construction and remodeling projects. She said the authority is close to producing a blueprint that assigns points for various green measures such as insulation and dual-pane windows, that she hopes other cities can incorporate.

Other builders involved in developing the guidelines were Pulte Homes, Silverwood Homes, Greenbriar Homes, Toll Brothers, Signature Properties and Ponderosa Homes.

Trece Herder, project manager for Centex, built an energy-efficient house in Arizona about 10 years ago that took a very long time to sell. She is hoping for a very different ending to this story.

“The next step is to build more zero-net energy homes,” said Herder. “We want to take from this house what we’ve learned and potentially build communities that have energy efficiency and green features.”

Reach Conrad at kconrad@bizjournals.com or 925-598-1427.

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