How do you sell “Net Zero” homes that produce all their own energy? One homebuilder, Nexus EnergyHomes in Stevensville, Md., is giving away iPads to the new owners of their homes. The builder has sold seven homes in its North Pointe development in Frederick, Md.
The iPads—just iPad 2s for now—aren’t gimmicky enticements. They’re intended to help homeowners monitor their homes’ energy use and control security and home automation systems, thanks to the Nexus’ soon-to-be-released NexusVision energy management and automation system.
“What we’re giving people is the ability to communicate with their homes,” says Mike Murphy, president of Nexus’ construction division. “They’ll receive alerts if there are spikes of power being used. You can start the irrigation system or the oven on your way home. If someone rings a doorbell, you’ll see a video of the person at the door.”
The NexusVision system consists of Alarm.com’s emPower home automation platform and interface, provided by subcontractor Vintage Security in Chantilly, Va., an eGauge energy monitor with current transformers (CTs) that measure energy usage at the electrical panel, and Eragy’s myEragy Pro energy monitoring software.
The NexusVision system will show separate interfaces for Eragy’s energy monitoring and Alarm.com’s emPower systems, the latter of which will come standard in the homes with climate control, lighting control, video (one day/night camera included) and security (including remote locking and unlocking). The emPower system uses wireless products that conform to the Z-Wave wireless mesh network technology.
The eGauge sensors won’t measure every circuit, but Murphy says Nexus has broken the home up into strategic circuits, such as kitchen outlets, appliances, master bedroom and living room, so homeowners can easily tell what is using the most energy and react to that via the emPower interface. The myEragy Pro software will display graphs showing energy usage in kilowatt hours (kWh) or dollars, presented by hour, day, week, month or year. Homeowners can even get up-to-minute updates from the eGauge devices.
The myEragy software also monitors production from the home’s solar PV (photovoltaic) panels and contains a utility rate database for choosing the best utility rate plans and running upcoming smart grid programs such as Time of Use pricing from utilities. Email or text alerts on utility rate information and energy usage can be sent to homeowners by Eragy’s software.
Technology Meets Green
The energy management and home automation control is just one aspect of these high-tech green homes. Nexus EnergyHomes use GeoSolar, with geothermal heat pumps that pull heat from below ground and solar photovoltaic panels that produce electricity. The homes’ super-insulated shells are made from SIPs (structural insulated panels). Inside, buyers will find bamboo floors, paints that emit low VOCs (volatile organic compounds that can aggravate respiratory conditions), recycled carpeting and energy-efficient LED lighting. An electric vehicle charger via 240-volt, Level 2 charger are available as an option. Outdoors feature rainwater harvesting and stormwater management to reduce water use for landscaping.
The houses, which are built to meet NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) Emerald certification for energy-efficient construction, don’t require outside air-conditioning units. Filtered air circulates through these pressurized homes every 45 minutes, using total recovery ventilators (TRVs) that ventilate, exchange heat like a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), and control humidity.
In addition, all household electrical equipment and appliances are Energy Star-rated. The entire electrical system is tied to the electrical or utility grid for net metering, in which unused power from the solar systems is “sold” back to the utility for an energy credit.
The home automation and energy management are key components in Nexus’ green and Net Zero homes. The NexusVision technology could help the homeowners maintain “net zero,” so as they bring more gadgets and devices into their homes, they can better see and maintain their energy usage—while enabling the geothermal and solar systems to continue to produce all of the homes’ energy needs.
“I think people are looking for technology. iPhones and iPads are proof that people will embrace this kind of technology,” Murphy says. “It’s a stable platform and people can feel comfortable with it.”
The myEragy Pro software also allows builders, service providers and others to monitor the energy use of the homes, which could give Nexus EnergyHomes valuable data on energy usage patterns of its home buyers and help the company plan for the future.
A New Market Niche
Nexus EnergyHomes president Paul Zanecki says his company has been working on the high-tech NexusVision portion of his homes for about a year and half. The company has been even longer in developing its Net Zero home designs with the NAHB.
“The concept of energy management and monitoring came about through the legal definition of net zero,” says Zanecki. “Early on in development, we though how unfair it was for a homeowner to wait to receive a monthly electricity bill. [We thought] we’re just going to have to give a tool to homeowners, so they can see their energy use in real time and understand their energy producers.”
The high-tech energy-efficiency niche Nexus EnergyHomes is carving out for itself may be the next step for homebuilders who are already embracing green building, renewable energy sources and energy-efficiency designs.
“We thought the time is right for builder in renewable/green area, says Zanecki. “What the market is looking for is not the same old stuff, but it’s time for new products. If we put out a new product that’s a performance house, we would have a pretty clean shot at a niche market. … We’re also able to acquire lots and lands at prices we couldn’t touch a few years ago.”
“They are a very progressive homebuilder focusing on a market that is being unserved,” says Mark Komanecky of Eragy. “It’s good see somebody in that world building homes that need no energy, and that’s been missing in the U.S. There’s going to be growing market for building homes cost effectively and energy efficiently.”
Zanecki says his company is adding about $50,000 in value to the average house it builds. Nexus EnergyHomes prices range from $295,000 to $400,000, and the homeowners receive the 30 percent federal tax credit on the cost of the renewable energy systems, while Nexus claims the SRECs (solar renewable energy credits) it sells to the utilities for producing solar power.
As for those iPads? “A home can be more than eating dinner, watching TV and going bed,” says Nexus’ Murphy. “Now people can communicate with their homes in a way they never have before.”
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