Homes in the Daybreak community near Salt Lake City are the first in Utah to feature solar thermal technology standard at a price point, after tax credits and rebates, comparable to traditional homes in the area.

The 22 houses from Salt Lake City production builder Garbett Homes boast solar cogeneration technology: Solar electricity is generated by the Solar World PV electric panels, and then waste heat from the process is harvested for hot water and heating.

“To capture heat, we draw air under the PV panel with a computer-controlled fan at speeds up to 500 cfm, so instead of overly hot panels, now we’ve got hot air,” says Gordon Handelsman, president of PVT Solar, manufacturer of the echo solar cogeneration systems used at Daybreak. “We can use this hot air to help heat the home, and to heat water for the house or even the pool or spa.”

Ranging in size from 1,400 to 2,800 square feet, the Energy Star for Homes-labeled dwellings in Garbett’s Solaris collection come standard with a range of other sustainable features as well, including tankless water heaters and low-E windows, but they are priced the same as the company’s other homes. A three-bedroom model with two-car garage sells for $206,900 after rebates and tax credits, slightly under competitors’ prices on a similar home with no energy-generating or -saving features, says marketing director Rene Oehlerking.

Garbett research 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.

“We call it the Prius model: If the Prius was priced the same price as the Corolla, Toyota would stop selling Corollas,” he explains. “We realized that if we were going to go down this road of offering solar then we would make it standard and do it at an affordable price point.”

Among the builder’s steps toward financial viability was imploring all subcontractors to cut their fees by up to 15%. “We really beat up on our subs to try to give us their best price, to really get on board, at least for this first initiative,” he says.

The company also shaved weeks off of its construction time--from an average of 65 days down to 45 days from contract to closing--through tighter scheduling with subcontractors and stronger on-site management. In addition, construction does not begin on a Solaris home until the contract is signed. The streamlined process allowed Garbett to avoid construction loans.

“The idea was that we could cut out the bank and paying interest and fees,” Oehlerking says. “Then we’d pay subcontractors and suppliers with the money we got when we closed the home, so we asked subs to bill us on a 45-day cycle and major suppliers to bill us 60 days out.”

The company also tapped into federal and state rebates and tax credits for solar and for Energy Star, adding up to about $9,500 per house.

In the six months since Garbett began marketing its Solaris collection, all but three of the homes have sold. “It’s our fastest selling product ever, and we’re in a recession,” Oehlerking notes. The company has several more solar cogeneration projects in the works in Utah and Idaho, which also will be offered standard at affordable price points.

The dwellings’ design, by Irvine, Calif.-based KTGY Architects, was dictated by company research indicating that eco-minded first-time buyers strongly prefer modern architecture.

“It’s a young, hip demographic,” Oehlerking says, and despite the region’s conservative reputation, green is gaining a foothold with all types of buyers. The company’s next set of Solaris homes will be offered in modern, transitional, and traditional styles.

“The states we work in are all red, Republican red,” he says. “You wouldn’t think this would gel with this audience, but we feel like green is really mainstream now, not a fad, but the way of the future.”

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.