Just a couple years back, anyone who said they could build a $180,000, 1,600 square-foot house that featured foam insulation inside a high-performance wall system, high-efficiency solar-powered HVAC and water heating , a weather sensing irrigation and water management system, and home-control software to manage it all could only have been either an inmate or a member of Congress (nuts or a liar, or both). Just the systems involved would have accounted for nearly half the cost, leaving about $60 per square foot for construction, minus a very small profit.

Meritage Homes (NYSE:MTH), Scottsdale, Az., has done just that at Lyon's Gate, a new community in Gilbert, Arizona that the company said is opening Saturday, June 26.

Homes will range from 1,600 to 3,000 square feet at prices starting in the $170's, with eight floor plans, four single-level and four two-story options. At build-out, the community will have 210 homes. The models have just been completed.

Each of the homes will include as standard features an advanced solar electric and thermal system that generates more than twice the energy per square foot than conventional solar panels; a wall system that is 3.5 times more energy efficient than standard wall assemblies; spray foam insulation throughout the home; an electronic home management system that allows homeowners to monitor and control their home's electrical systems through a smart phone or computer from anywhere in the world; and weather-sensing irrigation and water management systems that comply with the Evironmental Protection Agency's latest WaterSense Program.

Every home will be inspected and rated by ResNET-certified technicians, with the goal of achieving energy savings of 50% to 80% above those offered by a baseline Energy Star qualified house. That means a HERS (Home Energy RatingSystem) of "something in the mid-20s," said C.R. Herro, vp of environmental affairs for Meritage who was on-site Thursday preparing for the opening.Translated into energy savings, a HERS rating in the mid-20s would make the homes approximately 75% more efficient that those built to the 2006 International Energy Code.

"This technology didn't exist a year ago," said Herro. "And it's not just the systems ... It's all of the components working synergistically." Herro, who was running the Southwest region for Lafarge North America before he was recruited to run Meritage's green building program by CEO Steven J. Hilton 10 months ago, added, "I've never seen [anything like] it, anywhere."

Among the standout systems are the highly efficient photo voltaic solar panels from PVT Solar in Berkeley, Calif. that also boost both air and water heating and the Meritage 9-inch wall system that includes four layers of insulation.

"The opening of our Lyon's Gate community is a pivotal event that we believe marks a new era in homebuilding, and is a prototype for future communities,"said Steven J. Hilton, chairman and CEO of Meritage in a statement. "It exemplifies our commitment to energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainability and green building practices."

Hilton admitted that the community would not have been possible without the cooperation of the several trade partners with which these homes were designed. They include General Electric, PVT Solar, DEMILEC, SRP (Salt River Project) and the Town of Gilbert.

"Only through our coordinated efforts were we able to develop homes at these prices with all of these features included," Hilton said. "We intend to expand the use of these features in our other communities and work toward their greater adoption across the industry."

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ.