KB Home’s a Green Building Machine

KB Home’s a Green Building Machine

When one thinks of a green builder, a big production builder usually does not come to mind. But KB Home, the fifth largest homebuilder in the United States, has established green cred and then some, going way beyond building energy-efficient Energy Star-certified homes. KB Home offers houses with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, energy management and home control systems, water-saving WaterSense fixtures, electric vehicle (EV) chargers, even net-zero homes that produce all of their own energy.

Some builders moved toward building green and energy-efficient homes after the housing market crash of 2007-08 to help differentiate their homes from the glut of existing homes on the market. But KB Home started much earlier than that, offering EPA Energy Star-certified homes in 2000. In 2005, it started offering solar on its homes. And in 2011, it added an Energy Performance Guide (EPG) that compares an estimate of a KB home’s monthly energy costs versus a typical resale home. The EPG is based on a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) index that is scored by an independent energy rater.

“The idea of simpler and efficient living has impacted home buying,” says Jacob Atalla, senior director of sustainability at KB Home. “The EPG is our way to inform customers about the expected energy performance of each home design that we offer. It can become a tool for selecting homes, and it helps inform people on what to expect in energy savings.”

So what does this have to do with home energy management technology? The EPG was the basis. “The next step after EPG is to provide a tool in the house to inform homeowners about their home’s energy consumption on an hourly basis, so we may be able to impact behavior and they can meet the EPG estimates,” he says. KB first used a popular energy monitor that reads total home consumption at the electrical service panel. Now the company is offering a standard package of Schneider Electric’s Wiser Home Management System. The Wiser Power Monitor and Internet Gateway are now installed as standard in all KB homes so homeowners can view their overall electricity consumption via a web portal.

 

“This enables homeowners to have a really in-depth understanding of the energy they’re using,” says Yann Kulp, vice president of Strategy & Business Development with Schneider Electric’s Connected Home EcoBusiness North America.

KB also sells upgrades to the system, including Wiser’s Smart Thermostat to set heating and cooling schedules remotely, and home automation and security systems managed by Schneider Wiser partner Alarm.com. The options are sold in KB Home Studio design centers. Sales representatives in the model homes and design centers can show homebuyers how they can control lights, the thermostat, and read their energy usage via an iPad. “The best way to show them is to demonstrate that to them,” says Atalla.

After the closing, homebuyers can add compatible products to the systems such as in-home displays and smart plugs that can monitor individual devices, turning them on and off remotely, on a do-it-yourself basis.

The Wiser system can also receive information from utilities as part of their smart grid offerings to employ voluntary demand response programs that shed loads during peak periods in exchange for a discounted rate, for example. “Think about several hundred homes all powered by Wiser, and the value to the utility,” Kulp adds. “If one home can shed 1,000 kilowatts, take 300 to 500 homes, and you have a lot of load-shedding capabilities… These two markets [homebuilding and utilities] mesh really well.”

Solar to Net Zero

KB Home also includes solar photovoltaic (PV) systems as a standard offering, depending on the community and location in sunny and solar-friendly states such as California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and soon Arizona. In developments where solar PV isn’t offered as a standard, it can be added as an option. So far KB has built over 2,000 homes with SunPower solar PV systems, in packages of 1.8-kw, 2.5-kw, and 3.25-kw systems, depending on the home size and with upgrades to larger systems available as options.

Beyond any economic gain, the value of putting solar on homes is simply good business for KB Home. “Buyers may need to be educated on how solar can save them money month to month, [but] when they see the benefits of solar, they make a quicker decision to buy a KB home,” says Atalla.

KB is now taking this one step further to net zero homes that produce all or nearly all their own energy. So far KB has built nine net-zero homes as a branded R&D program called ZeroHouse 2.0, and looks to its net zero offerings as a market transformation tool.

ZeroHouse 2.0 options that KB homebuyers have selected include solar power systems, solar thermal water heaters, upgraded windows, enhanced insulation and weatherization systems, LED lights and higher efficiency HVAC systems. KB Home starts by employing efficient building techniques to bring a HERS Index score of between 40 and 50, then produces the energy needed to operate the home with solar. ZeroHouse model homes are also proving grounds for new and sustainable technologies. According to the company’s 2012 Sustainability Report, it installed an EV charging station, a whole-home automation system and a cool-touch induction cooktop stove in the kitchen of its Denver ZeroHouse.

The typical cost for the upgrade to a ZeroHouse is $40,000 to $60,000, Atalla says, and costs are coming down.

“We’re learning ourselves and teaching our trades,” he says, in addition to educating the homebuying community about sustainability practices in homes.

There’s even more education in KB’s future, some of it tied to EV charging options. “We have to think of the smart home and how it connects to the smart grid and relates to smart transportation as well. Extending the capacity of EV batteries is the ‘Holy Grail’ now—and the next big thing will be deeper interface between an electric vehicle and the home,” explains Atalla.

He’s not just eyeing pie in the sky. “We’re responding to the needs of our customers,” concludes Atalla.

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