Credits heat up demand for solar homes

A Florida builder is taking advantage of energy-efficiency tax credit provisions to construct homes that include photovoltaic panels to produce electricity and a solar water heating system — at prices competitive with more traditional homes in his market.

Ronald King Construction in Brooksville is installing the renewable energy systems on homes in its Deerfield Estates subdivision. When combined with Energy Star-rated appliances, lighting and other features, the homes are built to be at least 60% more energy-efficient than conventional homes.

The recent federal housing rescue package included a number of tax incentives that make the homes competitive in the Florida market, said John Reventas, the builder’s sales and marketing director.

A 2-kilowatt photovoltaic system costs the builder about $11,500, but there is an $8,000 credit available from the state and a $2,000 credit from the federal government. The solar water heater costs $2,000, but the builder gets a $1,500 tax credit.

Meanwhile, other federal incentives enable the home buyer to get back 30% of the total outlay — and an additional $450 from the local utility company for the water heater. “When you add it all up, it’s almost a wash for us,” Reventas said. “Out of pocket, it’s $2,500 to $4,000 per home, depending on the size of the home.”

The builder includes Energy Star-rated windows and other green features including low-flow faucets, native landscaping and low-VOC exterior paints — always in light colors to help reflect the sun’s energy.

The homes are certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition, a program that partners with the Florida Home Builders Association and also by the voluntary federal Energy Star for Homes program through Progress Energy, the local utility company. The company’s latest house received a HERS rating of 42, making it an extremely energy-efficient home.

The company also is eagerly awaiting publication of the National Green Building Standard, which was submitted to the American National Standards Institute last April for approval.

Prices for the solar-powered homes begin in the $180,000 range. Ironically, “we’re now selling these houses for the same price that we were selling [traditional] homes in 2004,” Reventas noted.

And potential customers have noticed as traffic at the builder’s model home has picked up. Many of them are waiting for their existing homes to sell before they make a commitment to the new solar models, Reventas said.

Information about the new 45L energy tax credits available to builders and the 25C credit for home owners is available from the Internal Revenue Service.

For information on green resources from NAHB, e-mail Calli Schmidt, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.