July 24, 2013

Homes that make more power than they take

These 'zero-net energy' homes feature thick walls, solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems. Homebuyers are willing to pay more for savings down the line.

By Michael Hill / The Associated Press

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Solar panels generate electricity for this zero net energy home in New Paltz, N.Y. It is designed to reduce energy consumption through the use of energy-efficient appliances and insulation.


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Gil Lobell stands in a zero net energy home being built at The Preserve at Mountain Vista in New Paltz, N.Y. Exterior walls of the nine homes under construction include a 6-inch layer of poured, reinforced concrete sandwiched by about 2½ inches of polystyrene.


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The University of California, Davis broke ground in 2009 on what officials there believe will be the largest zero-net energy community in the nation. They have completed 507 apartment units for students and faculty and more are being built. Eventually, private development on university land will include single-family homes.

Top home builders like Arizona-based Meritage Homes Corp. and California-based Shea Homes both market zero-net homes.

Meritage has a net-zero option — adding solar systems to already tightly-built homes — at all its communities from Orlando to San Francisco, said C.R. Herro, the company's vice president for environmental affairs. Shea Homes has sold more than 1,000 "SheaXero" homes in four western states and Florida. Marketed to baby boomers, they are only net-zero for electric since they have gas heat, but it works for Sandy Van Emmerik, who moved into a Shea home in San Tan Valley, Ariz., last October.

She said she still gets to run the air conditioner around the clock.

"And I still have never paid more than $18 and some change," Van Emmerik said. "Actually, the last couple of months I had a credit."

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Additional Photos

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A worker installs the roof of a zero net energy home in New Paltz, N.Y. The rafters will be heavily insulated and combined with castle-thick walls, insulated concrete slab below and triple-paned windows to create a "building envelope" that makes each house nearly airtight before extra ventilation is installed.



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