In Northern California, Lennar Corp. is jumping headfirst into solar energy, putting the national home builder in a leading position in green building at the time the environment is a hot topic from Washington D.C., to Main Street.

The company's Sacramento division is including energy-efficient construction and a photovoltaic (PV) solar power generation system in every new home it builds. This adds between $10,000 and $12,000 to the cost of each home, but with sale prices starting in the $455,000 range, it's not going to break the customer's budget.

William Gloede "It is a large commitment," says Jeff Panasiti, president of Lennar's Sacramento division. But, he adds, "Our business is set up to build a home that has all the features a customer wants."

The solar program, dubbed Lennar SOLARplus, grew out of discussions with Roseville Electric, a privately held electric utility in Roseville, Calif., outside of Sacramento. "They came to us with rebate programs and asked if we could get to 'X' point by 2015," recalls Panasiti. "We went back to them and said, 'Why don't we do them all now?'"

The result: 572 homes in three communities in the Roseville area–Laureate at WestPark, Wayfarer at WestPark, and Ironcrest at Fiddyment Farm–will be fitted with everything from super insulation in the attic to a PV system with an output of 1,942 watts (2.3 kilowatt hours) that's hooked into the local power grid via a reverse electric meter that credits a customer's bill for the power generated by the PV system.

In mid-March, Lennar took an even bigger step into solar, announcing a deal with the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) that will be the largest solar energy initiative ever attempted in the home building industry. Under the agreement, Lennar will build 1,254 homes in 11 Sacramento-area communities by 2010. The board of directors of SMUD, who are elected by the public, approved the partnership in a March 13 vote (

The PV systems in these communities will, like those in Roseville, feature an average output of 1,942 watts, along with inverters and reverse electric meters, and will be included in the Lennar homes in the area. Other energy-efficient technology will include radiant barriers in attics, heating systems with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating of 92, air conditioning systems with a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) of 14 and overall Energy-Efficiency Rating (EER) of 12, and fluorescent lighting. The combination of technologies will qualify the homes for Home Energy Rating System's (HERS) independent certification of energy efficiency.

According to Panasiti, the $10,000 to $12,000 will cover the cost of the technology for each home. Lennar receives rebates of $3 per watt for the PV system and $2,100 to $2,700 for the other energy-efficient technology per home from the utility companies, which will be used to pay for the installation. The home buyer will get a one-time, $2,000 federal tax credit when the house is purchased and will save, on average, 60 percent on energy bills, thereafter.

LET THE SUN SHINE IN: Lennar is using a PV system from San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower ( in its Roseville, Calif., SOLARplus communities. The rooftop solar panels integrate with the roofing tiles, creating a much less obtrusive look than standard, hang-on solar panels. Photo: Courtesy Sunpower Panasiti says the cost home buyers would amount to about $48 per month over the life of a mortgage. "You're going to cover that, plus" with the energy savings, he says.

The SOLARplus program in the Roseville area, so far, appears to be paying off, according to Panasiti. "We have 16 active communities in the area, three with solar now. Those three [see] almost 100 percent more people in a one-month period than the others."

But will this translate across the country? After all, this is California, where the air conditioning season runs from April through October and daytime temperatures often hit 100 degrees. Plus, as Panasiti states, "the environment is a little bit more trendy. And the people are a little bit more liberal."

But, he adds, "California becomes a testing ground, then you start to see these things moving east."