It's a harbinger of (welcome) things to come: The nation’s largest home builder is expanding its offering of solar power in its new-home communities in response to consumer interest and demand.
renewal energy strategy spans the homebuilder’s diverse brand portfolio: from first-time Centex neighborhoods; to homes for move-up Pulte Homes buyers; to those in 55+ active adult Del Webb communities.
“Solar makes sense for many home buyers,” says Walter Cuculic, the company’s director of sustainability. “With solar more affordable than ever before, tax credits available for purchasing solar options, and the ability to roll the cost into a home mortgage, solar is a great investment for new home buyers looking to hedge against rising energy costs.”
Cuculic said the company has introduced solar primarily in Pulte Homes, Centex, and Del Webb communities in the Southwest, and is looking for opportunities to increase the number of communities offering solar electric technology.
The company has 10 actively-selling communities that offer solar as standard or as an option, with the majority of solar based in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Four of those communities started offering solar within the last five months.
“We continue to look for additional opportunities across the nation,” Cuculic says, adding that states such as Florida, South Carolina, Colorado, and New Jersey are examples of markets where local utilities and governments are considering or implementing solar rebates and incentives for consumers and homebuilders. In addition, the 30% federal solar tax credit is a significant incentive to all home buyers, which are often combined with additional state tax credits.
“These types of incentives are increasing demand and fueling the growing solar movement,” he adds.
This month, the company will begin its first solar community east of the Mississippi. Del Webb’s River Pointe
community in New Jersey an included 2.25 kW solar electric system, with the option to upgrade to larger sized systems.
The roof-integrated SunPower SunTile and SmartMount solar systems Pulte offers are part of a partnership the company has formed at various communities with SunPower Corp.
, a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells and panels.
Woodbridge by Del Webb in Northern California
began offering the company’s first solar power option in a 55+ community more than a year ago. In its first months of offering the option, about 30% of the active adult buyers were choosing to add a solar system to their home.
“Typically, an option that has a higher price tag does not perform this well,” says Paul Renker, vice president of sales for PulteGroup’s' Bay Area Division. “But in this case, home buyers are telling us they like the fact that solar allows them to take control of their energy costs, reduce their reliance on utilities and contribute to a healthier environment.”
Typically, solar options range in price from about $14,000 to $25,000, before local incentives, rebates, and tax credits, says Matt Brost, general manager of New Homes Division for SunPower Corp. He said the cost varies based on the type solar system selected and size of the home. On average, homeowners can save $35 to $60 a month on their utility bills with a solar option, while at the same time qualifying for tax credits.
Meanwhile, Brost says the cost of solar in new homes is about 20% less than retrofitting solar in an existing home. In California for example, rebates for solar systems on new homes are at least 125% higher than rebates for retrofitting a system.
Pulte is also able to drive down costs through volume purchase agreements and integrating the system into the home while it is being built, Cuculic says.
“Clearly, we have to look at each community, the price point and the people buying there to determine if solar makes sense,” Cuculic says, noting that the majority of solar offerings for the company will be concentrated with its Pulte Homes and Del Webb brands. “In most cases, a community for first-time home buyers may not see a high demand for solar simply due to the added cost of the home.”
The heart of the Pulte Homes home buyer is the Gen X (age 29 to 45) consumer, who values the social as well as the environmental benefits of solar.
In Las Vegas, Pulte Homes introduced solar as standard at its Villa Trieste
community, which features smart home technology that enables homeowners to track their electric production and home energy consumption. Solar electric panels and a custom eco-concierge dashboard in each home helps homeowners manage energy usage and monitor solar generation. Additionally, an iPhone application provides Villa Trieste homeowners with a remote and convenient means of monitoring the energy performance of their home.
The 185-unit community, lauded as one of the most energy efficient in the nation, is a result of a public-private collaboration aimed at reducing residential energy demand by 65%.
“Home buyers look at it as an investment decision,” Cuculic says. “A huge advantage is the ability to roll the cost of solar into your new home mortgage. Essentially, the interest from the homeowners’ mini power plant at the top of their home is now tax deductible.”
Photo: Sun City Shadow Hills by Del Webb