• Garbett Homes' solar-powered models in Salt Lake City are priced similarly to conventional homes in the area.
    Garbett Homes' solar-powered models in Salt Lake City are priced similarly to conventional homes in the area.
The affordability of Garbett Homes’ solar-powered dwellings near Salt Lake City is comparable to buying a Toyota Prius for the same price as a Corolla, Garbett marketing director Rene Oehlerking tells would-be buyers.

Solar PVT, tankless hot water, and ultra-efficient insulation are standard features of the Solaris models, which are priced similarly to  traditionally built homes in the area, from about $209,000 to $265,000.

Garbett is giving away the high-performance upgrades, Oehlerking says, to lure first-time buyers who can’t afford to pay extra in the current economy. In addition, banks are reluctant to appraise eco-friendly homes for more than market rate, so consumers can’t get mortgages to help cover energy-efficient features.

Noting that Toyota recently sold its millionth hybrid-electric Prius, Oehlerking surmised that mainstream buyers have fully embraced its gas-conserving benefits: “They’re not just for tree huggers anymore,” he says.

Similarly, he tailors Garbett Home’s energy efficiency message for buyers who may (or may not) be concerned about the environment. Salespeople focus on “the total cost of homeownership,” not just the upfront purchase price, and urge clients to consider how much a renewable-energy system can save over time, Oehlerking says.

“But the bottom line is that no one wants to pay extra to go green,” he says.

In fact, Garbett research has indicated that other production builders, which have offered solar and solar thermal packages as $10,000-$15,000 options, were not finding a lot of demand for the upgrade.

“Not that many people were paying extra to have solar,” says Oehlerking, adding that another survey found that 100% of buyers would opt for a solar system if it was standard.

  • The Solaris' modern design has helped to catch the attention of young, first-time buyers.
    The Solaris' modern design has helped to catch the attention of young, first-time buyers.
MODERN APPEAL
The dwellings were designed by Irvine, Calif.-based KTGY Architects using Garbett research indicating that first-time buyers strongly prefer modern architecture. The emphasis on wooing young consumers has paid off during the current economic downturn, Oehlerking added.

“First-time home buyers insulate us against the recession because they don’t have a home to sell,” he says.

The net-metered, Energy Star-certified homes, which boast average HERS ratings of 42 and summer power bills of less than $10, also come with full air-exchange systems, 24-inch o.c. framing, R-23 walls, and R-38 ceilings. Two  Solaris models were part of the Green Building and Technology Tour that kicked off the NAHB National Green Building Conference last week in Salt Lake City.

To keep construction costs low, Oehlerking told tour-goers that the company relies on deals from his suppliers and subcontractors, especially solar and geothermal installers. They are willing to negotiate, he said, because Garbett is their biggest client by far. Local and federal rebates and tax credits also help to keep the homes affordable.

Solaris is located in Daybreak, a master-planned community in Salt Lake City developed by Kennecott Land of South Jordan. With an eventual buildout of 20,000 homes on more than 4,000 acres, Daybreak is the largest Energy Star-certified community in the state.

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor, Online for EcoHome.