Production builder uses green demonstration homes for R&D

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
 Production builder uses green demonstration homes for R&D

KB Home Double ZeroHouse 3.0.

KB Homes, one of the largest homebuilders in the United States, uses its high performance demonstration homes as research and development opportunities to refine the building practices and technologies that find their way into its production homes.

Since its founding in 1957, KB Home has built more than half a million homes in the United States. The company has committed to using sustainable building practices, so all KB homes are highly energy efficient and meet strict ENERGY STAR® guidelines. This helps to lower monthly utility costs for homeowners, which the company demonstrates with its proprietary KB Home Energy Performance Guide (EPG).

 KB Home has been named an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Sustained Excellence Award winner for four straight years and a WaterSense® Partner of the Year for three consecutive years.

In an exclusive interview with, Jacob Atalla, senior director of sustainability initiatives at KB Home, discussed the company's high performance home research and how it translates that into the real estate market place.

In  2014, KB Home launched its latest demonstration home, the Double ZeroHouse 3.0 in the Fiora at Blackstone Development in El Dorado Hills, California. It was the first net-zero KB home with renewable energy generation and storage capabilities provided by SunPower; high-tech and energy-efficient products from Ford's MyEnergi Lifestyle initiative; and a fully-integrated, network-connected home experience with resource-efficient, state-of-the-art appliances from Whirlpool Corporation.

The Double ZeroHouse 3.0 was designed to achieve net-zero energy usage — the result of a whole-home approach to first reduce the energy load of the home by incorporating advanced features and systems like increased insulation; upgraded HVAC units; high-performance windows; and LED lighting.

The KB home earns its ‘Double' ZeroHouse title through its dual emphasis on water as well as energy efficiency. The WaterSense labeled house is equipped with an integrated home water and energy recycling system called the "eWater Recycler," by Nexus eWater. Warm grey water, which studies have indicated may account for two out of every three gallons of indoor water, is normally treated as waste and sent straight to the sewer. The eWater Recycler recycles the energy in this warm water and treats the water on-site for reuse in non-potable applications. In the case of the Double ZeroHouse 3.0 at Fiora, the eWater Recycler will supply recycled drainwater to all of the home's toilets, meaning they will use zero freshwater in a household of four or more, and recycled energy to heat the home's fresh water.

Combined with the home's other water-conserving features — including a hot water recirculation pump, a first-of-its-kind KitchenAid Architect Series II water-recycling dishwasher, WaterSense labeled fixtures, and a touchless kitchen faucet — KB Home estimates that the Double ZeroHouse 3.0 at Fiora can conserve as much as 70 percent of the freshwater that would traditionally be used in a typical resale home.

Notably, the Double ZeroHouse 3.0 at Fiora is among the first KB homes also equipped with innovative energy storage solutions provided by SunPower. The advanced systems extend the solar system's existing capabilities by storing excess solar power generated during the day for use in the event of a power outage.

In fact, the Double ZeroHouse 3.0 at Fiora connects a host of smart home technologies into one intelligent ecosystem, enabling homeowners to control much of their home's equipment from a smartphone or tablet. The ‘smarter' Double ZeroHouse 3.0 at Fiora incorporates products from Ford's pioneering MyEnergi Lifestyle initiative, including the Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid. MyEnergi LifestyleTM shows how a typical American family can significantly reduce their electricity bills and CO2 footprint by integrating today's smart home appliances, plug-in vehicles and solar energy by using Ford's proprietary database of utility rates to perform tasks when electricity costs are lower. MyEnergi Lifestyle works by leveraging the cloud so key energy-consuming devices in a home use less energy, while also shifting energy usage to less expensive periods.

Part of the Double ZeroHouse 3.0's comprehensive network of smart systems is its integration of Whirlpool® brand smart appliances. The Double ZeroHouse 3.0 features a Whirlpool® brand "Works with Nest" laundry pair that integrates with the Nest Learning Thermostat. The laundry pair connects seamlessly with the Nest devices to leverage Nest's Home and Away modes. Both the washer and dryer can keep clothes fresh if a cycle ends while the consumer is not at home. The dryer can also switch into a slightly longer, more energy-efficient cycle if the resident is away. In addition, the washer and dryer can automatically delay the start of a cycle during high-demand energy periods.

The Double ZeroHouse 3.0 employs zero-VOC paint, low-VOC carpeting, and formaldehyde-free insulation, which contain fewer toxins than their traditional counterparts, and help enhance the home's indoor air quality. Additionally, an advanced ventilation system works around the clock at KB Home's Double ZeroHouse 3.0 to continuously introduce fresh outdoor air and further improve the home's indoor air environment.

With the inclusion of solar technology, together with the home's other energy- and water-efficient elements, KB Home's Double ZeroHouse 3.0 at Fiora provides an estimated energy and water savings of up to $4,500 annually compared to a typical resale home.

All KB homes at Fiora, even those that are not at the Double ZeroHouse 3.0 standard, will be built to ENERGY STAR certifications and WaterSense for New Homes criteria. KB Home's Double ZeroHouse 3.0 at Fiora far exceeds WaterSense and ENERGY STAR efficiency standards, is Indoor airPLUS certified, and meets the Department of Energy's rigorous Zero Energy Ready Home program's requirements for energy savings, comfort, health, and durability, Atalla noted.

Q: Tell me about KB Home's sustainable building journey.

A: Since 2010 we had the vision that the homes of the future could be a lot more energy and water efficient, for the purpose of maintaining affordability of homes. There are new technologies coming out, and when we started in 2010, we recognized that if we can incorporate that technology into homes we can make the home of the future now, and if we can make it more affordable by having lower utility bills every month, the customer will save a lot of money.

From 2010 we started building net zero energy homes, and over time we have used some of the same technologies that we continue with until today, and in some cases we introduce newer technologies and are testing new things.

So in general the net-zero energy program becomes our R&D program. We try to do these things in general and also the State of California has mandated new homes to be net zero by 2020. We know we have to build net zero homes, and we're practicing that now and getting the costs and processes down pat.

Q: What is your approach to high performance home building?

A. It's simple, we call it reduce before you produce. Our homes start at the baseline of an Energy Star certified home. We take that level and and increase the efficiency to decrease the energy load. We improve things like the envelope of the house through insulation and better windows and better installation, and a better roof system and then we also go to the mechanicals of the house to increase their efficiency. By doing all of that we're decreasing the energy load of the house. So that's a portion of our mantra, reduce before your produce.

Then we go to produce and we add the solar to it. We've proved that reduction must come first; it will impact the production portion. Our most recent zero house only had 7Kw of solar on it to bring it to net zero. That was done by first doing a whole lot of fine-tuning to the house to make it energy efficient, and 7kW on a resale home knocks half the bill off the house. In the case of the zero house, it pays the whole electricity bill.

Q: What has been evolution of the net zero energy home concept at KB?

A: That was our first zero house, with 7kW of solar on the roof. For the second version, we added smart systems to the home that help with awareness and management of the energy of the home. The second version also included smart appliances that can detect the utility rates and can decide through software set up by the owners to defer the functions to a time when the electricity rate is lower, like late in the evening.

Now in Version 3 we have battery storage, we not only create electricity for the moment but we then bottle that energy to use it as back up. In the event of outages and in the future it can be used to allow the homeowner to use what's in the battery rather than buy from the grid at nighttime.

Q: How has the market place accepted the high performance home program?

A: We are selling parts of these technologies to our homeowners, and many of our zero energy houses are occupied. Depending on the customer interest, they can go all the way from just adding a little bit of solar or smart appliances, to the whole zero house package. It's up to the consumer how much investment they want to make.

We're seeing lot of buyers not going to net zero, but a lot of homes we build come with solar standard, so they might have 1.5 kW system on them but the buyers are opting for a minimal charge to upgrade to a 3.15 kW system, and when that happens with the tax credits it's almost a no brainer. It doesn't cost them an incredible amount of money, but when you get that size of a system on a home that's already very energy efficient, their bills come down dramatically.

Q: How is KB addressing the water shortage issues in the Western states?

A: In places that have experienced extreme droughts, their utility bills are very high for several reasons, one is that these water districts have to spend a lot on additional infrastructure to store water and the rate payer has to pay for all that.

So our homes to start Energy Star certified and every home has WaterSense labeled fixtures in it as well. Every home by EPA estimates saves 30,000 gallons per year.

In the ZeroHouse, we increased that, it can be up to 100,000 gallons saved per year depending on how you use that gray water.

If a home has a gray water system on it and it's used to irrigate the lawn, they're not using water, they're re-using water they used already to keep their lawn green. They'll have a better-looking lawn while still feeling good about conserving water

Every home we build has WaterSense fixtures and on top of that, there are homes that are WaterSense labeled homes, and one of the requirements is to have a hot water recirculation pump in it. And these recirculation pumps are on-demand pumps, it helps the homeowner get the hot water very quickly to the bathroom faucets or shower so they don't have to run the water, get a cup of coffee and come back, thereby wasting a lot of water, it comes right away.

Q: How do homeowners perceive the value of a high performance home built to these top standards?

A: Where there are good incentives available we see lot of customers interested and are buying our homes because they have solar as standard. In Southern California about 80 percent of our communities offer solar as standard.

And of course the customer can get the house with a standard system but they can upgrade to the next size or two to cover more of their utility bills.

We do have good education at our design centers, to educate the customer on the other things are maybe little less known to them to make their homes more energy efficient if they choose or water more efficient. That goes beyond what we're offering as a base, to have an Energy Star certified home is a big value and they can go beyond that.

It is giving us a differentiation that is a really pronounced big difference compared to resale homes and a substantial difference to new homes that are simply built to code.

It creates value to our customers and makes the affordability of housing a lot more attractive for a larger swath of homebuyers.

Read more aboutEnergy Star homes and appliances.


Topics: Appliances, Building Green, Connected Homes / Smart Homes, Cost of Ownership, Energy Audits, Energy Star, Going Green, Home Design & Plans, Interior Design, Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Rebates / Tax Credits, Solar Power, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Sustainable Communities, Water Saving Devices, WaterSense

Companies: U.S. Department of Energy, Whirlpool Corporation, ACT D'MAND Systems

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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