When one thinks about light, or dish washing, or refrigeration, or electricity for that matter, the name GE is likely to come to mind, particularly if one is a big builder, a majority of whom use GE appliances in their new homes. But the company that is known for bringing good things to life is not necessarily readily associated with the green movement.

William Gloede
William Gloede

Alas, GE makes jet engines, nuclear reactors, and more not known for environmental friendliness. GE also produces energy-efficient appliances and the generators that produce much of the electricity they use. And it's the nation's leading maker of compact florescent light bulbs, which hold more potential than any other current technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and homeowners' electric bills.

GE also makes photovoltaic systems, the environmentally friendliest energy production system there is. And it makes a nifty new gadget called the GE SmartCommand Dashboard, which tracks energy usage and can help a homeowner maximize conservation of both energy and water.

So it's not surprising that GE would move into a leading role in the growing movement toward green home building, which it has done through a joint venture with Masco's Environment's for Living program to create its ecomagination initiative. GE has marshaled its considerable resources, products, and expertise in lighting, refrigeration, home appliances, security, credit, and home control systems and put them together with Masco's heft in materials sold into the builder channel to create a turnkey program with which builders can offer a house that uses at least 20 percent less electricity and water while cutting the "carbon footprint" of the home by at least 20 percent.

GE has signed its first builder client for the program, RWO Acquisitions, which is currently developing a 3,000-home master planned, mixed-use community called Withers Preserve on an old Air Force base a stone's throw away from the beach in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The homes, ranging from 1,500 to 4,000-plus square feet, will sell for between the mid $200,000s and the $600,000s. A limited number of higher-end, $1 million-plus homes will be added later during the project's eight-year cycle time.

GO GREEN AND SAVE GREEN: The ecomagination Home Builder Program specifications include GE energy star appliances, the GE SmartCommand Dashboard, and the GE Brilliance Solar Electric Power Systems.
Photo: Courtesy General Electric GO GREEN AND SAVE GREEN: The ecomagination Home Builder Program specifications include GE energy star appliances, the GE SmartCommand Dashboard, and the GE Brilliance Solar Electric Power Systems.

"For the first time, GE is going to show up with all their products and show you how to increase your bottom line," says John Owens, product development manager for RWO on the Withers project. "We felt like we could make this thing work. You're giving the buyer what they want, you're doing your bit for the environment, and you're increasing your bottom line." He adds, "In terms of added value and differentiation, I think it's going to increase the bottom line."

Here's how it works. GE will spec out and provide appliances, lighting systems, and a home energy control system, and Masco will provide high-efficiency insulation, vapor and roof barriers. Security, audio, intercom and solar photovoltaic systems can be added as well, but at additional cost. In general, the upgrades will cost less than $5,000 per home ($3,000 in the case of Withers Preserve), and the builder gets a $2,000 federal tax credit for making the home energy efficient.

What's new is that it is turnkey. "We've established some standards for a minimum level of performance," says Patrick McElhaney, business development manager for the GE ecomagination Home Program. "Certainly, a builder can produce a high-performance home. This is a way for them to take it to the next level. You can get a lot of the pieces and parts from a lot of different places. GE offers a one-stop shop."

Dave Bell, national sales manager for Masco's Environments for Living program, says the addition of GE has broadened its appeal significantly. "In the past, we focused it on the envelope and the HVAC system in the home. Now, with GE, we're bringing in the elements of energy and water conservation, appliances and lighting."

"In this environment, the builder doesn't want to spend an extra nickel," he adds. Still, he says, "This is just in its infancy, and we've gotten very good response."