A Fresno County home builder has become a leader in meeting a new statewide standard calling for solar power to be installed on new homes, starting Jan. 1, 2020.
De Young Properties is building a 36-single-family energy efficient development at Shaw and Highland avenues in southeast Clovis. It is the largest development of its kind in the state and could serve as a model for how other builders meet the looming energy saving mandate.
Called EnVision at Loma Vista, the development looks like any other subdivision in the area with its tile roofs and neutral-colored exteriors. But hidden in the walls, attics and roofs of these homes is the latest in technology. Each home’s solar installation, coupled with other energy efficient features, is designed to produce as much energy as the home will use in a year. It’s known as zero net energy.
Among the energy saving features of the home is the heat pump water heater. Instead of using gas to heat the water, the heat pump uses electricity. It pulls heat from the surrounding air and transfers it to water that’s stored in a tank. There is also roof tiles to reflect heat and sunlight away from the home and a high-efficiency air conditioning and heating system.
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Working with De Young Properties is the Silicon Valley nonprofit research group, Electric Power Research Institute. The group helped plan the community and provided the technical details. EPRI will also be collecting data for two years on how much power the homes use and when it’s used..
“We want to be able to better understand how zero energy works in a home,” said Ram Narayanamurthy, a technical executive at EPRI. “Homeowners are under the impression that they are saving energy, but we want to tell them how much and if there is an opportunity to save more.”
Homeowners can download an app that will allow them to see how much energy their Tesla-made solar panels are producing and how much energy the homeowner is using.
Narayanamurthy said the data may also be useful to state regulators who may need to recalibrate their solar power goals.
The California Energy Commission in May approved new building standards requiring that most new homes have solar panels by Jan. 1, 2020. The goal of state regulators is to slash energy usage in new homes by more than 50 percent. That will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 115,000 fossil fuel cars off the road.
Along with installing solar, the state also wants to make homes operate more efficient by improving the insulation, lighting and indoor air quality.
Narayanamurthy said his group has worked with several other builders in California but the EnVision project is by far the largest. He also applauds the De Youngs for being ahead of the game.
“In California, they are the leading builders in this area,” he said.
Brandon De Young, executive vice president of the family-run company, said that while the company had more than a year to comply, it was already very familiar with zero net energy.
The home builder constructed and designed a zero net energy concept home in 2013 with energy saving features including thicker exterior walls, an insulated attic, and solar panels.
“What we have learned is that there is not just one silver bullet, it is a combination of features,” De Young said. “You need to find the right mix so that the home is still affordable and feasible to build.”
About one third of the homes in EnVision are under construction and more than half have been sold, De Young said. The first home is expected to be finished by late August or early September.
The homes range in price from the low $300,000s to the mid $400,000s. The size of the homes start at 1,700 square feet and go up to 4,000 square feet. Buyers also have a choice of four elevations and three color schemes.
De Young said he wanted the EnVision homes to look just like any other in their developments. Other zero net energy homes he’s seen had a slightly futuristic and boxy look.
“We didn’t want that, we wanted to give the home buyers lots of variations of what their home can look like so it feels more like a custom home,” he said.
Other home builders have raised concerns about the added cost of installing solar. Building industry officials have estimated the added cost to be about $10,000.
“It can create an issue when it comes to affordability,” said Mike Prandini, president and chief executive officer of the Building Industry of Fresno and Madera Counties.
The Energy Commission estimates the new standards will add about $40 to the average monthly mortgage payment, but save consumers $80 a month on electricity bill.