Wednesday, June 19, 2013
WELLS -- Buyers these days expect hardwood floors, granite counters and oversized windows in an architecturally designed house, and the model home in the new Brackett Estates subdivision doesn't disappoint.
The space is bright and beautiful. But beyond the amenities, the house is so energy-efficient, it will be able to produce more energy than it consumes over the course of a year.
Do mainstream buyers want that energy independence? How much extra will they spend to get it? And is there enough demand in southern Maine for zero-energy homes, as they're called, to build 26 of them in a stylish subdivision?
Those will be the key questions today at an open house for what's being called Maine's first net-zero ready community.
Brackett Estates is the culmination of the vision of two well-regarded builders in York County, a green-leaning Portland architect and a manufactured-housing innovator in the Oxford Hills.
In an era of volatile oil prices, the developers are gambling that the local market is ready for a suburban community of zero-energy homes. "This really brings green energy and zero energy to the median-priced home buyer," said Jesse Ware of JP Ware Design in Portsmouth, N.H.
Ware teamed up with Craig Briggs of CB Builders in York to form Futuro Inc. They eventually want to create similar zero-energy subdivisions elsewhere in Maine.
But they first will have to be successful at Brackett Estates, where they hope to build seven homes by year's end.
Off Loop Road, west of the Maine Turnpike, the model home is a two-story New Englander with a porch, a two-car garage and white clapboards. It has 1,750 square feet of finished space, with three bedrooms and 2? baths. It's being listed for $429,000. Other designs will start at $379,000.
That's more expensive than some comparable new homes in this part of Wells that offer more living space. That makes some real estate agents skeptical about the project's appeal.
But Ware and Briggs say the energy-related features, well-planned use of space and quality materials justify the higher price per square foot. "It costs more to get a home that's this efficient," Briggs said.
Homes that can make as much energy as they take sometimes are called net-zero, because there's a net gain of power over a year. Such homes tend to use solar electric and solar hot-water panels, and sometimes wind turbines, to generate power. In most cases, electricity is fed into the utility grid.
Zero-energy homes are becoming more common. The next step is zero-energy communities, several of which are rising across the country.
The idea is to lower prices by spreading design costs among many homes.
The model home in Wells has a range of features to achieve zero energy.
The walls are a foot thick and have an insulation value of R-40, nearly twice that of a typical new home. The roof is insulated to R-60.
Windows contain a heat-blocking gas within three panes of high-performance glass. South-facing glazing is positioned to welcome winter sun, and shaded by overhangs that repel high-angle summer rays.
The building is warmed in winter and cooled in summer by a high-efficiency electric heat pump called a mini-split. Similar heat pump technology warms water with a so-called hybrid water heater in the unfinished, daylight basement.
Nearly every crack and seam is caulked and weather-stripped, making the building so tight that a special ventilation system is used to provide fresh air. One reason the home is so well sealed is its modular construction.
It was assembled in the Keiser Industries factory in Oxford. It's what's on the roof that makes the home net zero. The southern slope is covered with solar electric panels. They add about $17,000 to the total cost of the home, after tax credits.
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