Industry Wants to Bring Electricity-Generating Housing to Mass Market, but Potential Buyers Must Be Sold on Price
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The National Association of Home Builders’ 2015 New American Home generates its own electricity through a rooftop solar-power system. That system, combined with energy-efficient doors, windows, appliances and other features …
The home is designed so that its windows don’t get much direct sun exposure, which keeps it from heating up too much in the day. Most of its windows have overhangs that block direct sunlight. Trent Bell Photography …
Spray-on insulation in the walls and roof cocoon the home, preventing leaks and allowing more efficient temperature control. Trent Bell Photography …
The home is equipped with energy-efficient LED lights rather than conventional lighting. Trent Bell Photography …
The home is designed with several water features, including an infinity pool, that add to humidity in the house when its doors and windows are open, helping to cool it naturally. Trent Bell Photograph
The home has a tankless hot-water system that heats water on-demand rather than continuously keeping big tanks of water hot. Trent Bell Photography
The house can be cooled naturally by opening its many sets of large, sliding doors, allowing breezes to flow through the house and bringing in humidity from water features on its patio and in its courtyard. Trent Bell Photography
@KrisHudsonWSJLAS VEGAS—Net-zero homes are going mainstream, if the home-building industry has anything to do with it.
The homes, which generate more electricity in a year than they use, have long been viewed as a niche product for the affluent who can afford custom homes. The chief problem is that it is expensive to get a home to net-zero status, and many customers aren’t willing to wait several years for their electricity-bill savings to cover the thousands of dollars they would have to spend on net-zero features such as solar panels and energy-efficient windows, doors and appliances.
Jan. 20, 2015 5:48 p.m. ET
Economists See Housing-Market PickupThe 5,800-square-foot home, designed and built by the trade group and Blue Heron Design/Build LLC, is being shown in a format that will enable other builders to incorporate elements of the design in mass-market homes across the country. The company says it can build similar—but smaller—net-zero electricity homes for about $700,000. Blue Heron anticipates listing the New American Home for $2.5 million.
This year’s New American Home at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas aims to show off the viability of creating less-pricey net-zero electricity homes. Photo: Trent Bell Photography
But some builders, motivated by what they deem as rising demand from home buyers and state and local regulators, are aiming to change those perceptions by designing such homes for the mass market. Such a model home—the latest in the National Association of Home Builders’ annual New American Home series showcasing new-home designs —is on display this week in a hillside neighborhood 7 miles from the Las Vegas Strip as part of the trade group’s International Builders Show.
Tyler Jones on Energy Efficient CourtyardsMost net-zero homes generate much of their own electricity through rooftop solar systems, though they are still connected to the public power grid for the times, such as nights, when their system isn’t generating all the electricity needed. At other times, such as intensely sunny periods of the day, those solar systems generate more electricity than a given house needs, so the excess is sent to the public power grid. The homeowner receives credit for the excess electricity, the amount of which varies depending on the state and the utility company, that typically shows up on their monthly or annual bill.So far, in part because of price, net-zero homes remain a fraction of the overall market. In the past year, the U.S. Department of Energy has certified 370 homes as being “net-zero energy ready” under updated guidelines. Before that, it deemed an additional 14,500 as being close to zero-energy specifications.The hurdles to broader demand are higher in the Northeast and Midwest, where the sunshine—specifically, solar radiation—isn’t as intense as in areas like the Southwest. In those less-sunny regions, homeowners have to install more solar panels to generate the same amount of electricity as a home in the Southwest can generate with fewer panels.But some builders say that demand is slowly starting to pick up as the cost of energy-efficient materials and renewable-energy equipment falls. The Solar Energy Industries Association says the average price of an installed solar-power system has declined more than 50% since 2010.Meritage Homes Corp., which builds in nine states, has constructed 50 net-zero homes since 2011 and intends to build 50 this year alone. Some builders disagree. Luxury builder Toll Brothers Inc. says it’s “not seeing demand” for net-zero homes. Write to Kris Hudson at email@example.com
And Lennar Corp., the nation’s second-largest builder by closings behind D.R. Horton Inc., prefers to offer energy-efficient homes outfitted with solar power rather than those fully achieving net-zero status. “Net zero is an interesting concept, but it’s far from commercially available and far from being financially affordable,” said David Kaiserman, president of the builder’s Lennar Ventures division.
C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs at Meritage, says the company can achieve net-zero status in homes costing as little as $200,000 in certain markets. Thus, the key to more mainstream acceptance, he believes, is not price but informing more home buyers of the benefits of net-zero homes. “Net-zero is technologically and financially solved,” he said. “It’s now a matter of the consumer catching up to that potential. That’s probably another three years.”
Retirees Robert and Sue Payton bought a new net-zero home in Coupeville, Wash., in 2011 from builder Ted Clifton ’s Zero-Energy Plans LLC. They spent an estimated $15,000 extra for the home to achieve net-zero status. They say they now pay no electricity bill. “We knew energy rates were going to go up, and we didn’t want that extra burden of energy bills on us,” Mr. Payton said.
Dan Bridleman, a senior vice president at builder KB Home, which has constructed net-zero homes in several states, estimates that it can cost $6,000 to $12,000 more for a solar-power system in the Northeast than in the Southwest to achieve the same amount of electricity output.
This year’s New American Home is expected to be listed for $2.5 million. But the builder, Blue Heron Design/Build, says similar, but smaller, versions can be made for about a $700,000 list price. Photo: Trent Bell Photography
Achieving net-zero status typically requires builders to install spray-on foam insulation to seal the house of leaks and adding energy-efficient doors, windows, appliances and lighting, among numerous other features. Net-zero homes also need high-performance heating and ventilation systems and other equipment to regulate humidity, air quality and air flow.
“We wanted to basically prove through this New American Home project that you can offer the absolute highest level of cutting-edge design, energy efficiency and technology on more of a production scale,” said Blue Heron partner Tyler Jones, who oversaw the home’s design and construction.
In buildings like ONE KL in Kuala Lumpur, the Honeycomb in the Bahamas, Bandra Ohm in Mumbai and Porsche Design Tower in the Miami area, developers are installing private pools in every unit.
Dec. 31, 2014 11:56 a.m. ET
A rendering of Mumbai’s Bandra Ohm. The building’s roughly 100 condos will include pools on balconies. James Law Cybertecture International Holdings Ltd.
The latest weapon in the luxury high-rise arms race: a private pool in every unit on every floor.
At ONE KL, a 35-story luxury building in Kuala Lumpur completed in 2009, the building’s tagline boasts, “94 Apartments, 95 Swimming Pools.” In the Bahamas, each of the 34 units at Honeycomb, a condominium with a hexagonal-patterned facade that’s expected to be completed in mid-2016, will have a 70-square-foot pool with a transparent edge, offering views of the marina and ocean. And in Mumbai, 30 stories of about 100 residential units at Bandra Ohm will include crescent-shaped pools on balconies enclosed in acrylic, the same material used for large aquariums. Site work is expected to begin next year.
At ONE KL, a 35-story luxury building in Kuala Lumpur completed in 2009. The building’s tagline boasts ‘94 Apartments, 95 Swimming Pools’. SCDA
More residential high-rises are trying to stand out from the competition by replicating the outdoor spaces typically found in single-family homes, offering everything from larger balconies to rooftop kitchens. Private pools are the latest frontier, says James Law, the Hong-Kong based architect designing Bandra Ohm. On the day the building’s plans were released, 1.2 million hits on his firm’s website crashed its servers.
Developers have also been emboldened by engineering and design advances such as 3-D structural analysis, lightweight materials and waterproofing technology.
But some developers and real-estate agents question the functionality of such pools, which often aren’t meant for more than wading or taking a quick plunge. “If you’re trying for a differentiator, that’s a reason to do it,” says I. Dolly Lenz, a luxury real-estate agent in New York. “But personally I wouldn’t recommend the idea to a developer.”
And despite the advances in materials and design, high-rise pools remain technically challenging. A leak could mean considerable headaches for the neighbors below. Plus, water is heavy: Putting a pool in a high-rise can cost about 20% more to install because of additional support.
Bernardo Fort-Brescia, an architect based in Coconut Grove, Fla., originally planned to include individual, cantilevered pools for each of the 13 units at the Bath Club Estates in Miami Beach, which feature terraces of more than 2,000 square feet. He says the plan was scrapped because the depth of the pools would have affected the height of the ceilings in the units below. He added that there was also a “technical risk” of slab movement, which could have led to cracks—and leaks.
Real-estate agents say the value added by a pool is difficult to estimate. Depending on a home’s regional location and price point, the amenity could help or hurt a home’s resale value, because not all homeowners want pools. While the cost of maintaining a pool varies, average annual maintenance for balancing chemicals and cleaning runs around $1,000 for a small pool, says Roberto Colletto, CEO of Myrtha Pools in Italy, which manufactured pools for the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic Games and is manufacturing pools for the Porsche Design Tower in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.
Christopher Anand, senior managing director of the Tavistock Group, the developer of Honeycomb, says the pools are an attractive amenity “that we have seen as a huge selling point.” Honeycomb’s sales launched in September and the building is 45% sold.
The Porsche Design Tower will include 10-by-15-foot pools on the balconies of most of its 132 units when it’s completed in 2016. The prefabricated pools, which are made of stainless steel and include Jacuzzi bubbles and a hydro-massage bench, are costing the developer $100,000 each. Extra concrete and steel required to hold the weight, as well as supply lines that rise from one story to the next, make the pool portion of the project cost about $18 million, says Gil Dezer, the tower’s developer. The units are on the market for $6.3 million to $32.5 million; amenities also include glass car elevators, which will allow residents to remain in their cars on the way up to their apartments.
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A rendering of Sky Condos in Lima, Peru, which will have 10 duplexes and cantilevered pools. DCPP Arquitectos
“If we get pushback from buyers, then we say ‘OK, we’ll take out the swimming pool for you, but you may be the only one in the building with this layout and no pool’,” says Mr. Dezer, adding that he thinks the pools raise the value of the units by about 10%.
The development’s pools appealed to Juan Pablo Verdiquio, a real-estate executive who moved with his wife and two children to Miami from Argentina last year. “We always had houses with pools, but an apartment with those features? I wanted to be part of that,” he says. Mr. Verdiquio declined to say how much he paid for his 5,835-square-foot, three-bedroom unit on the 12th floor. He says he expects his family to use the pool every day.
To counteract the risks of leakage, some architects opt for pools made of waterproof concrete to ensure tightness, while others choose stainless steel pools because they’re lightweight and easy to assemble. Mr. Colletto of Myrtha Pools says his company uses a waterproofing membrane on the pool and liquid PVC around the pool structure to prevent leaks. “You need to guarantee there is not a single drop of water coming through,” he says.
The weight of water presents a structural challenge for the architects of these buildings. At the Marq, a two-tower luxury high rise in Singapore completed in 2011, the Signature Tower of 21 units has individual cantilevered pools that are sunken below the floor of each unit. The water in the approximately 50 foot-by-10 foot pools weighs 54 metric tons. To ensure stability, Yiong Hoi Liong of P&T Consultants, the structural engineer of the project, says two circular columns were placed on the pool decks, and pool walls were designed as stand beams for additional support.
Mexico-city based architecture firm DCPP Arquitectos, which is designing Sky Condos in Lima, Peru, with 10 duplexes and cantilevered pools, says weight will be balanced by walls that run parallel to the main structure. At Honeycomb, architect Bjarke Ingels says thick beams that helped create the exterior hexagonal motif will support the weight of the water in the pools—about five metric tons per pool. Honeycomb’s condos range from 2,500 square feet to 5,800 square feet and are currently priced from $3.5 million to $15 million.
In New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the 11-story Soori High Line is offering 4-foot-deep heated pools in 16 of its 31 units, which range in price from $3.6 million to $22.5 million. To test the waterproofing capabilities on his project, architect and co-developer Soo K. Chan says the pools, made of waterproof concrete, will be filled with water and left for a month to detect any leaks.
Another challenge for Mr. Chan, who also designed The Marq in Singapore and ONE KL in Kuala Lumpur, is dealing with New York’s subfreezing winter temperatures. Each pool in Soori High Line will be connected to a heat-pump system to ensure the water temperature doesn’t dip below 40 degrees during the winter, and stays around 80 degrees during swimming-friendly months. The penthouses will have their own individual pool heaters that will be billed separately; owners of other units will need to add one, if desired.
At Sunny Isles Beach’s Porsche Design Tower, the designers faced a different weather conundrum. Mr. Colletto and Mr. Dezer needed to create a master valve to lower the water levels in pools when hurricanes may be on the horizon so if there’s a storm, “the building doesn’t look like it’s crying,” Mr. Dezer says.
Corrections & Amplifications
Christopher Anand is senior managing director of the Tavistock Group. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified him as a senior partner.
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