Builder offers solar package on homes
October 18, 2007
CARBONDALE ” Engineer and entrepreneur Anson Fogel of Inpower Systems in Carbondale wants to make purchasing photovoltaics for the home as simple as picking out upgrades for a car.
That concept will be put to the test in a new partnership with the Ironbridge community north of Carbondale, which will offer photovoltaics systems on its single-family residences.
There are 102 houses on the 533-acre golf course community located off Highway 82 between Carbondale and Glenwood. But new lots for sale in December will have photovoltaics as part of an upgrade option for the semi-custom homes.
“We’re pretty excited. We haven’t seen this before from a production homebuilder, pulling this kind of technology ” which has always been thought of as fringe ” into mainstream building,” said Mike Woelke, vice president of construction for Ironbridge.
Woelke said the developers, Steve Hansen of Hansen Construction and Tom Schmidt of the Colorado Springs-based Broadmoor Estates, have been dedicated to building green since they started, seeking advice from a Massachusetts building consultant and using energy-efficient materials in the houses.
“Our goal always was to try to build very efficient houses. We thought what [Inpower] is doing fits very well with what we were doing,” Woelke explained.
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The developers are targeting 10 existing homesites immediately. Although the lots already are purchased, the developers are going back to those buyers and offering the solar “upgrades.”
“I could have three or four sold in a couple of weeks,” Woelke exclaimed, adding that the Ironbridge Homeowners Association has yet to approve the solar packages.
Thirteen lots at Ironbridge will be for sale beginning Dec. 1, with more released in subsequent months. Those buyers can choose from three PV packages (a 2,000-watt, 3,500-watt or 5,300-watt system) to supply electricity to their homes. Buyers also will have the option to add solar hot water, too.
The cost of those homesites will start in the high $400,000s, excluding the PV upgrades, according to a sales associate.
Fogel said the total on a 3,500-watt system on the largest standard Ironbridge model home would cost about $18,000 after rebates. That system would produce about half the annual power for the home, “saving more per year than the increase in loan payments ” meaning, net cost is zero,” he said.
According to Woelke, the other advantage for those buyers is that they can roll the upfront cost into their mortgages but reap the rewards as they save on utility bills.
The larger 5,000-watt system could supply 100 percent of the homeowner’s annual electricity, depending on the household energy consumption and size of the house, Fogel added.
Fogel said that whether constructing a new house or remodeling an existing one, homeowners need to think of adding photovoltaics or other solar-powered systems the same as considering a kitchen remodel, adding a garage or improving flooring.
“One of the first things that happens is the resale value goes up by more than you spent. It’s demonstrable,” Fogel said, especially with the added federal and local incentives and rebates that cover an average of 50 percent of the cost. “Everybody makes decisions on their homes based on resale. I know people who’ll drop $10,000 on a kitchen remodel in a heartbeat.
“[Solar] is a home improvement, a significant amenity. It needs to be viewed the same as a kitchen remodel or any other improvement,” he said, adding that photovoltaics last longer and additionally will offset or cut utility expenses.
“There’s no gray area or magic to it. We’re not inventing any of this stuff,” he said. “It’s pretty compelling if you make people comfortable with the aesthetics. The only reason you wouldn’t do it is that you didn’t make it a priority.
Fogel said a homeowner can spend roughly $9,000 (after rebates) for a 2,100-watt PV system and provide at least 30 percent of an average-size home’s energy and likely more depending on energy use.
“It’s a personal power plant. It’s not a cabinet … it’s about perspective.”
Fogel noted that another factor that has kept people from investing in solar is that they do not understand what they’re getting. Inpower emphasizes “simplicity,” Fogel said, focusing on five pre-engineered systems, and providing everything from photo renderings and processing rebate paperwork to installations and meeting with HOAs.
“We have a base package and you can add to it, just like buying a car. We’re really trying to make the buying process easy,” Fogel said. “That has transformed the ability for normal people to do it.”
Woelke said the photo renderings and simplicity of Inpower’s systems convinced the Ironbridge team to add the solar package to their designs and thinks that will help buyers make the decision to go green.
“The real test will be up to the buyer. We’re going to try to blaze some new trails here,” Woelke said, convinced it won’t be too hard a sell particularly since the expense will be balanced out by the utility savings.
“We’re doing something that’s responsible. Hopefully we will start to see buyers asking, ‘Is it green? Are you using efficient materials?’ We’re going to give it a try and hopefully we’ll get some takers.”