Solar Homes Sold Faster and Better

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published an extensive report studying several California subdivisions before the housing crash. Entitled “A New Market Paradigm for Zero-energy Homes: The Comparative San Diego Case Study”, the study focused on the builder experience, the market response, home values and cost of electricity in the solar study group and adjacent comparables. It concluded that homes with installed solar systems sold faster than those without solar, and they sold at a higher price (17% higher).

Shea Homes put solar PV and solar thermal systems on half of its homes in a new development.  All 257 of the homes with solar sold within a year, two years faster than expected.  Clarum Homes, another developer in the test group, found that their solar homes sold in 23 months while their non-solar homes sold in 28 months.

NREL conducted extensive interviews with home buyers in the test developments, and the home buyers also signed releases to provide data on energy costs. It was discovered that if solar was already on the home and was factored into the price, buyers were more likely to pick the home with solar over non-solar.  If a home did not have solar already installed but rather included it as an extra upgrade, the decision was usually nixed. It simply became one more decision to be made at time of purchase by overwhelmed buyers.

NREL concluded that builders should make solar standard, so no additional decisions would be needed by homebuyers. Builders in the study found it was more profitable to build in the solar systems as a standard feature rather than as an upgrade, too. In one California development, all 306 homes included the solar features.

Who were the homebuyers? There were mostly upper-middle class married couples with children or mature couples. Three-fourths of the buyers had visited and shopped the solar as well as the competitive non-solar homes. In the homebuyer interviews, NREL found that the buyers were very satisfied with the energy bill reductions, even if there were not as many solar features as there could be. Homes typically had small 2.4 KW PV systems that reduced bills by 54%, even though NREL says a typical home needs about 6 KW to supply all electricity needs (depending on how many computers, large tvs, etc. are found in the home!)

Owning a solar-powered home seemed to change attitudes and perceptions, says the survey results. Living in an energy efficient home promotes familiarity and interest in those systems and in energy overall. They seemed more sensitive than others to energy practices in the home.  The survey also seemed to conclude that the solar aesthetic (seeing panels on the roof) did not stop buyers, or they did not reject a home for aesthetic reasons. Indeed, the homes with solar sold faster than the test group of non-solar homes in the study.

Owner interviews revealed that while both buyers were pleased (solar and non-solar study groups) with their homes, the solar group ranked higher at 77% vs. 67%.  A majority of homebuyers agreed that solar water heating and solar PV systems are desirable innovations for new homes, and 85% agreed that the “federal government should support research on highly energy-efficient homes that produce all the energy they use.”

NREL mapped out an interesting chart showing “conventional wisdom” and “new market paradigms”, aimed mostly at builders, looking at myths of cost, homebuyer choice, aesthetics and buyer psychology.  The study lays out that if solar or other energy efficient technologies are included in new homes, they do not pose a barrier to purchase but if the technologies are sold as an upgrade, they probably will not be chosen. Buyers do not reject a solar home on aesthetics, and many are not ‘fearful’ of new technology.

The NREL study concludes: “…When this paradigm is used, builders, new home buyers and utility companies will benefit. When appropriately applied to business practice and public policy, this new paradigm will help builders create the sustainable communities so necessary for our well-being and that of future generations.”

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