Why did you decide to make sustainability and high-performance homes part of the foundation of your company, Dwell Development?
When I left my family-run design/build firm back in 2005, I didn’t want to be a small fish in a big pond of Seattle developers. To help my company stand out, in 2002 I became involved with Built Green, a local sustainable building certification program promoted by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.
I felt that this sustainable approach to building along with the benefits of third-party verification of what was behind the walls was a legitimate, smart move. It also dramatically reduced the impact on the environment and resources, and promoted best building practices from a holistic approach. I was the first and only builder in Seattle committed to doing every one of our Dwell homes at the Built Green 5 Star level, which is a home built to be around 50% more efficient than the current energy code. From the early 2000s to now, building to various third-party certification programs has really helped Dwell differentiate itself from other builders.
What are some of the benefits you as a builder see by integrating solar photovoltaics (PV) into your builds? What benefits do your customers see?
Every Dwell home comes with a pre-wired net meter solar-ready system. This way we can offer our buyers a home that can accommodate a solar panel installation at any point in the future so that it can become net-zero energy (NZE, producing as much energy as the home uses), if desired. Whether we integrate the solar PV at the time of sale or make the home solar ready, it’s great for marketing because it separates us from the pack, and it ensures that our buyers know that their home is NZE-ready going into the purchase. With all the state and federal solar incentives, the return on investment is about four to five years in Washington. Combine this with the rapidly declining cost of solar panels, and it’s just a matter of time before every Dwell home has solar installed and becomes the next net-zero energy home in our portfolio.
Have you encountered any challenges associated with residential solar PV? If so, how did you overcome them or what solutions have you discovered?
We’ve had very few challenges because it’s a standard part of our building system and process. We are 100% committed to have all our homes be solar-ready. There have been some concerns about cost and financing options in the past when our clients wanted to install solar after they moved in. To overcome this, Dwell connected our buyers with a local solar-focused lender to step in and mitigate this roadblock. It was super easy and inexpensive. More generally, we simplify our solar PV installations to reduce potential challenges: Each panel has its own inverter on it, also known as microinverters, making it easier for us to “plug and play.” Our streamlined, simplified process allows us to install as many or as few solar panels as needed on our homes.
What would you recommend to builders who haven’t yet integrated solar PV into a project yet, but want to start new partnerships with solar installation companies?
I would simply say to every builder out there to just do it. It’s the right thing to do for your brand, for the environment, for your buyers and for the future of our planet. As energy codes in the United States become stricter, why not start building net-zero energy homes so that when the time comes, you are the leader in your market and don’t need to learn how to catch up? You’ll want to have those established relationships with trades and have your specs in place to assure you are building appropriately for your climate zone.
Our electricians install the net meter on each home as part of their service rough-in. They then add a simple conduit that runs from the meter to the roof. Then we have our local PV installer come out, and provide us a design and solar PV model/plan, which is done at no charge. When it’s time for solar to be installed as part of our build, or after our home is sold if the buyer isn’t ready yet, the client is able to refer to the solar plan that had been mocked up previously. The solar PV company then is allowed the opportunity to proceed. That’s how we do it up here in the great Northwest anyway. In summary, start by making your homes solar ready and by researching local solar companies in your area. From there, you’ll start to build relationships that help to get the ball rolling.
This content originally appeared in the August 2020 edition of Green Intersects eNews. To sign up for the newsletter, contact Linda Wade.