Courtesy Team Massachusetts via Flickr and Creative Commons license.
Solar power is a given for all homes entering the U.S. Solar Decathlon (such as Team Massachusetts' home from 2011, seen here under construction), but it is also becoming more common on new homes as a whole.
Will alternative energy sources such as geothermal heat pumps and photovoltaic (PV) panels become standard offerings on new homes in the future? Just under a quarter of the market is already bringing this to market, according to a survey of single-family builders collected by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in November 2013. According to the NAHB's Eye on Housing blog, the survey found that nearly a quarter of surveyed builders installed alternative energy-producing equipment on new construction projects last year, with 82 percent of respondents reporting that they had installed geothermal heat pumps and 26 percent reporting that they had installed PV panels. An additional swath of builders is also providing homes that are power-production ready: nearly 18 percent of the survey's respondents said that while they did not install power production on their projects in 2013, they did build infrastructure that would allow homeowners to install the equipment in the future.

Incentives may be lending a hand in growing this market. In 2012, Maryland became the first state to recognize geothermal heat pumps as an accepted technology to meet renewable energy credits. Nationally, both geothermal heat pumps and PV panels are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit for new and existing homes, and both primary and secondary residences, the NAHB's blog explains. In October 2013, NAHB tax and policy expert Robert Dietz blogged about how this credit, the section 25D tax credit, promoted a total of $1.5 billion in solar property in 100,000 homes in 2010.

Partnerships also a gathering buzz across the building industry. Last week, Meritage Homes announced a three-year agreement with SunPower Corp to offer high-efficiency PV systems on Meritage Homes communities across the country. "Increasingly, homebuyers understand the return on investment that a high-quality, energy-efficient, solar-powered new home delivers," said SunPower CEO Tom Werner in a press release announcing the agreement. The deal came two weeks after solar provider SolarCity announced a new partnership with Taylor Morrison to offer a solar power option on every new home in the builder's Phoenix communities. Last month, SolarCity also announced a similar partnership with 20 Oregon home builders. In total, the company reports that it is working with more than 80 builders across nine states to provide solar systems for home buyers.

What other high-performance products are builders investing in? The most common products and practices reported by builders to NAHB in the November survey were:

  • Low-E windows (91 percent of respondents)
  • High-efficiency HVAC systems (90 percent)
  • Programmable thermostats (86 percent)
  • Energy Star-labeled appliances (79 percent)
  • Duct systems designed to minimize inefficiencies (74 percent).