Pulte Prototype Pursues Zero Net Energy

A rendering of Pulte's zero net energy prototype.

National homebuilder PulteGroup, Inc. and subsidiary Pulte Homes have set the bar high when it comes to zero net energy.

Pulte’s homes have grown more energy efficient as codes evolve, and the company has been hunting for an opportunity to build a zero net energy project miles ahead of code.

Now, Pulte has found it with its newest prototype in Northern California.

It has teamed up with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to tackle the zero net energy concept after receiving contact from leadership in the Northern California division expressing interest in this type of project.

PulteGroup’s National Procurement Director, Brian Jamison, says that the companies wanted to build upon the idea of, “What can we achieve with this project, and what do we want to learn?”

“Pulte, being a very consumer inspired company, is always interested in how this is benefiting the homeowner and how this is enriching lives,” says Jamison. “What is the experience going to be from the homeowner perspective?”

The prototype, in construction early February.
The prototype, in construction early February.

Consumer Inspiration

It is important for Pulte to work on a project that doesn’t just build a net zero prototype in a production environment with a production homebuilder. The company also wants to create something meaningful in terms of what is gathered from the homebuyer and utilize a plan to have continuous contact with the buyer over a period of time.

This allows Pulte to gain an understanding of how the buyer likes different features, how their experience is with respective products and how the home ultimately performs.

“The prototype was born out of the idea of, ‘Let’s build a net zero prototype in the production environment with a production home but then also monitor the home after buyers move in for a period of a year, going through a full cycle and full season,’” says Jamison.

Having these future touchpoints allows Pulte to build upon and learn from consumer feedback. “We’re staying true to that consumer inspiration, which is very near and dear to Pulte’s heart,” says Jamison.

The prototype, mid-construction.
The prototype, mid-construction.

Monitoring & Managing Efficiency

Pulte plans to monitor the home for a full year using an energy monitoring software called SiteSage, which meant wiring the prototype differently than an ordinary house. Far more circuits and breakers have been installed than normal, which allows Pulte to track energy usage down to each individual room.

Through this monitoring system, Pulte can know exactly where the home is performing correctly or underachieving. “We can really dial in and give the buyer meaningful feedback on how the house is performing and even track their habits in order to drive more savings directly to them,” says Jamison.

Achieving Zero Net Energy

Pulte’s prototype is expected to be completed in May, boasting a variety of energy efficient products and methods that have allowed the home to succeed in its zero net energy goals.

“We look at the home as a holistic unit,” says Jamison. “When you alter one thing, it very often affects another. There are several key components to making this a zero net energy home.”

Pulte’s prototype includes the following:

See PDF (courtesy of Pulte) – HOME INFOGRAPHIC

All of these features combine to create a remarkable zero net energy prototype. An impressive feat to note is that the home’s solar array produces about 4.6 kW of power using only 14 next generation panels from SolarCity.

“Typically, to take a home to net zero, you will see a builder use 6 to 9 kWs, which would use 24 to 36 panels,” says Jamison. “This is huge from an aesthetic standpoint. It means greater curb appeal and less visual noise without sacrificing a very high efficiency solar production.”

Installing the blown in attic insulation.
Installing the blown in attic insulation.

2020 Vision

Once the project is completed in May, Pulte will initiate a month of marketing where people can come and see the prototype. The company will also hold events where realtors can come see the project and spark meaningful conversation directly with Pulte, on-site.

Following this period of first-hand experience, Pulte will then open the home up for sale. “For us, setting proper expectations is key as homebuilders and very important to Pulte,” says Jamison.

Using this effective blend of consumer inspiration, high efficiency products, monitoring, learning and informing, Pulte hopes this prototype continues to build towards a future that embraces zero net energy fully.

This is especially true considering California has a goal to be 100 percent zero net energy by the year 2020.

“Our objective is to demonstrate the zero net energy concept in a production home environment. It’s easy to build one home that’s very high efficiency, but we wanted to really look at it in a meaningful way and ask, ‘How could a production homebuilder build this on a repetitious basis?’”

Normally when you multiply zero by a large number, you still end up with zero. But when it comes to multiplying the potential of zero net energy, it equals a sum of incalculable importance, and Pulte certainly understands the math.

As more builders continue to hop aboard the zero net energy train, it will only add up to a better future.

RELATED: Net Zero Heroes: Married Couple Takes on Energy Bills

Energy Coalition Launches Net Zero Study

Anatomy of a Net Zero Home

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About The Author

Greg Vellante is a staff writer and multimedia specialist at TecHome Builder, as well as a content coordinator for AE Ventures events. He has over a decade of experience writing for various publications on topics that range from cinema to editorials to home technology. His favorite technologies fall into the A/V and home entertainment realm, and he’s keeping a close eye on the rising trends in robotics and virtual/augmented reality. Greg resides in Boston, holds a degree in Media Studies from Emerson College and pursues screenwriting/filmmaking in his free time.

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