In building its Sacramento development, Premier Homes received financial incentives from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to build a "zero-energy home," a designation by the U.S. Department of Energy that means not only is the home using energy-efficient construction and products but it can also return energy to the grid if extra is produced.
"We're just a small utility district trying to do our part," said spokesman Mike Keesee, the photovoltaic project manager for the district. "Builders can use us as a laboratory and then communicate that success to their colleagues and the country."
Premier Homes, however, has no plans to expand to Southern California, citing high land costs in L.A. and Orange counties. So, for now, few Southland buyers can find new homes with solar technology, which was a major selling point on the Sacramento project.
Kurt and Margie Gonzales, both in their early 40s, were among those who got a solar home there for about $340,000.
"We had a choice between Premier Homes and another builder ... but without the energy savings," said Margie Gonzales. "Going from a relatively small home we'd lived in for 17 years to a large, two-story home, I was really concerned about the power bills."
Their August power bill, however, was only about $50 for a 2,240-square-foot home, compared with more than $200 at their previous nonsolar, 1,800-square-foot home.
First-time buyer Chuck Seielstad, 47, and his family were also drawn to the Premier Homes project because of the energy-saving potential. Their decision to buy there is saving them about $220 a month on electricity.
"What settled my wife on it," Seielstad said, "was the solar power."
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An eco-friendly housing community
Among the solar, green and energy-conservation features in use at Terramor's Walden Park homes are:
* Energy Star appliances. Energy Star was introduced in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a voluntary rating system to label products designed to be 15% to 30% more energy-efficient than state energy standards.
* 2.5-kilowatt solar power systems. Photovoltaic cells in solar roof panels use a semiconductor material such as silicon to produce electricity directly from sunlight. The average California family uses about 541 kilowatt hours a month, according to the California Energy Commission. A 2.5-kilowatt system generates about 364 kilowatt hours a month, or about two-thirds of an average household's energy needs.
* Optional 110-volt outlets for charging electric vehicles.
* Vouchers of $1,000 toward Global Electric Motorcars for new homeowners.
* Fluorescent outdoor lighting on timers.
* At least 50% of construction waste recycled.
* Moisture sensors and other strategies for water conservation.
* Green waste mulch.
* Low-flow faucets and shower heads.
* Low-odor "zero volatile organic compound" paint. Volatile organic compounds are harmful chemicals in paints, stains, adhesives and sealants.
* A greenbelt with a vehicle-free paseo for walking, running or cycling.
* Low-emissivity glass windows that filter the sun's rays. A microscopically thin, invisible coating helps keep heat indoors during the winter and heat outdoors during the summer.
Barbara E. Hernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.