It’s been possible for years for energy-conscious homeowners to buy a house that generates as much electricity as it consumes, but that’s typically required the very expensive task of building a custom home.
Now Valley-based Shea Homes has made this a standard feature in virtually all of its homes, allowing owners to potentially have an annual electric bill of zero. The efficiency comes from a mix of solar panels, insulation and efficient appliances, which the builder is marketing as SheaXero.
Shea unveiled the homes this month in 10 communities across the nation, including Trilogy at Encanterra in San Tan Valley.
The builder has offered the zero-net energy houses for several years as an option that added about $25,000 to the price tag, said Rick Andreen, Shea’s president of active lifestyle communities. About 28 percent of buyers went with the option.
Shea made the efficient home a standard design after the price of components fell in the past couple years, Andreen said. Also, the builder found much of the extra cost was related to the custom nature of the work. When every home has the same features, the cost was driven down to just $5,000.
“So much of the cost of cost of these systems is, frankly, the intellectual capital to design it for each individual house,” Andreen said. “The cost of that can be spread over hundreds of homes, not one home, and that’s a huge difference.”
About 60 percent of typical energy use is offset with photovoltaic cells manufactured by SolarCity. The panels cover about 25 percent of the roof. The remaining 40 percent comes through extra insulation and efficient appliances.
Also, the homes are about 2,000 square feet, smaller than the average hew house. Andreen estimates the houses would have an electric bill of $150 to $170 a month with standard construction techniques.
The SheaXero homes are the new standard at 10 developments nationwide. The Scottsdale-based builder estimates it will sell about 300 of the homes in the Valley this year and between 750 and 1,000 nationwide.
Even in the soft housing market, Shea didn’t see the extra cost as a big hurdle, Andreen said. Trilogy is a 55-plus community and the average age of buyers is about 58. Those buyers typically can afford the extra cost and many have said they live in homes with electric bills of $200 to $300 a month, he said.
Andreen acknowledged the SheaXero homes could result in an electric bill for owners who have a pool or use above-average levels of energy. The homes were designed to be about 10 percent more efficient than the average person’s energy use, he said.
Buyers won’t own the solar panels. The homes come with a 20-year lease and prepaid maintenance contract. When that expires, it will be up to owners to negotiate with SolarCity on an extension or a replacement. The panels are estimated to operate at 75 percent efficiency after 20 years.
Andreen admitted there’s some uncertainty with the panels over time.
“That all remains to be seen,” he said. “We took care of the first 20 years and we think that’s pretty good.”
By comparison, he said roof tiles are the only other component of a home with a 20-year warranty.
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