Production builders across the country are poised to capitalize on falling prices and increasing demand for residential solar power. Builders such as Meritage Homes, Pulte, and Lennar offer the energy-generating systems to customers eager to lower their utility bills. In recent years, interest in solar-powered dwellings has heated up while costs have come down: Roughly half a million homes in the U.S. have PV systems, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. In fact, U.S. residential installations topped commercial jobs this year for the first time ever and, because the average price of solar panels has declined by 60 percent since 2011, the systems are more affordable than ever.
Solar-powered homes also have become attainable to middle-class home buyers due to state and federal incentives, energy efficiency mortgages that take a home’s energy generation into consideration, and more accurate valuation by appraisal and real estate professionals. For these reasons, solar power is quickly becoming a smart financial decision for buyers eager to lower their utility bills, says CR Herro, vice president of energy efficiency and sustainability at Meritage.
“The cost/value line has crossed the meridian,” he says. “Now solar is something that creates value for a home.”
Meritage was one of the first production builders in the country to offer solar on all of its homes. About 5 percent of the company’s buyers choose this option, but Herro estimates this number will more than double in the next few years. This fall, the company plans to launch a marketing campaign designed to educate customers on the attributes of solar power. Michigan-based Cobblestone Homes also is betting that solar power will soon become a hot commodity for home buyers. About 5 percent of Cobblestone buyers opt for solar systems, but owner Melissa Wahl predicts that number will rise to 30 percent within five years. Many other buyers choose “solar-ready” homes equipped with rigorous insulation and air sealing, and wired and sited for optimal solar generation. Down the road, the homeowner only needs to add photovoltaic panels to complete the system.
“Once energy prices start to rise again, we’ll hit a pivotal point where it’s going to make the best financial sense for buyers to put solar on their homes,” Wahl says.