With this net zero energy attainable community in Ashland, Mass., 30 miles west of Boston, Glenn Travis, principal of GMT Home Designs, knew the design had to match the traditional style homes in the neighborhood to bring in potential buyers.

The traditional farm-style homes feature an open layout on the first floor with a mudroom off the garage entering the kitchen. The second floor includes four large bedrooms for growing families, with enough space for kids to have sleepovers, says Travis. The homes are meant to appeal to parents in their 30s and 40s with a growing family who intend to stay for a long time.

“We wanted to make sure we added the farmer’s porch and the grid pattern in the windows, the combination of different colors, and the beautiful front wood door,” says Travis. “[They would] be attractive features for buyers who, to be frank, may know very little about net zero energy.”

The Preserve at Oregon

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See more of the design in this net zero energy attainable home.

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And that’s part of the challenge. If people can’t see the energy-saving features of a home, it can be hard for them to understand the added value. Travis says he and the builder Michael Kane have had to educate buyers as to why they should pay the premium to buy not just a beautiful home, but a home built to such high levels of quality.

And the six net zero energy attainable homes in The Preserve at Oregon community are selling at a premium. The four-bedroom homes are selling between $700,000 and $850,000, while comparable homes in the area are selling for $600,000 or less.

However, as Travis points out, those homes aren’t equipped with solar PV systems with a 25-year warranty, Mitsubishi electric heat pumps, Energy Star appliances, locally-made triple-glazed windows, a special liquid applied air and water barrier, engineered I joists made from sustainable forestry practices, and LED or CFL lighting. On top of that, the homes’ insulation reaches R-44 in the walls and R-70 in the attic using cellulose as well as open- and closed-cell spray foam.  Plus, there’s no oil or gas running to the home; it’s all electric.

Though Travis and Kane wanted the homes to be net zero energy, they knew the size of the homes (ranging from 2,500 to 3,700 square feet) would be a problem, considering most net zero energy homes are roughly 2,000 square feet or under. Depending on the homeowners' energy consumption, the homes could achieve net zero. However, with a near-zero HERS rating, buyers can expect roughly $70,000 in saved energy costs over 25 years, while also receiving a 30% federal tax credit of $10,000 to $15,000. So while owners may only be able to see the value of the beautiful design and finishes, they’ll also be able to feel the value of the energy efficiency in their pockets.