Jamais Cascio describes the kind of homes that we need in the hot, humid South. As my nephew James Abrams has pointed out, energy costs in California are proportionately much less — due to the high home prices (and corresponding monthly mortgage payments) — than in the South. Here in the South, we have much less expensive housing but greater annual temperature extremes, with significant heating costs in the winter and high cooling costs in the summer.
Developer Clarum Homes has just completed the "Vista Montana" community in Watsonville, California. Vista Montana has the nation’s largest building-integrated solar electric system in an apartment complex, a 60 kW system projected to produce over 90 megawatt-hours annually. The units were constructed to use 40 percent less energy than would otherwise be typical.
The program includes the installation of tightly sealed ductwork, a high-efficiency heating and ventilation system, and smart glass windows. Hydronic heating units were used to achieve energy efficiency through the combined function of heating both the water and the living space.
Clarum specializes in green residential projects, and its "Enviro-Home" claims at least a 90% reduction in energy costs. Clarum built an all-Enviro-Home community in Watsonville in 2003, and has energy-efficient and solar-power homes in its other developments. The specs do sound good — integrated solar electric, on-demand water heater, super-efficient windows, etc. — and the home designed received the Zero Energy Home (PDF) designation from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.