With the help of Realtor.com, Sotheby’s International Realty, Coldwell Banker Previews International and Prudential Douglas Elliman, we combed the Multiple Listing Services to find available homes touting self-sustainable energy options capable of going off the grid.
After Superstorm Sandy left more than 8 million people in the dark, it took utility companies weeks to get the power back on again in some of the hardest-hit areas. The shock has propelled some moneyed buyers to consider a new, high-tech type of residence: the self-sufficient safe house that can withstand storms and power outages.
Nancy Horowitz, a broker with Halstead Property in the Hudson Valley region of New York, says since Sandy she’s seen a flurry of interest from downstaters looking for homes that are more robust and well away from the water. “In the past several weeks, they are emailing about this,” she says.
One option she offers is a new 12-lot subdivision in Copake that’s being developed by “green” prefab homebuilder Blu Homes. The company has erected a fold-out $1.6 million model home with a heavy-gauge steel frame similar to those in skyscrapers that boasts hurricane-resistant Simpson Strong-Tie straps and a metal roof capable of holding solar panels. Each of the available lots, starting at $125,000, will also have off-the-grid energy capabilities.
“The most green thing you can do is build a house that will last 100 years with renewable energy that is protected from the types of infrastructure challenges we have seen with storms like Sandy,” says Maura McCarthy, co-founder and vice president of Blu Homes. The appeal seems to be broad – Horowitz says the Blu Homes development is drawing prospective buyers ranging from Baby Boomers to Brooklyn artists to Bard Collegestudents to Europeans.
With the help of Realtor.com, Sotheby’s International Realty, Coldwell Banker Previews International and Prudential Douglas Elliman, we combed through the Multiple Listing Services to find homes for sale that can generate their own power from solar, wind and geothermal sources, and boast durable construction. These homes, capable of riding out a disaster, range in price from $799,000 to $13 million.
The rise of the self-sufficient home comes amid an expansion in green homebuilding that is projected to swell to between 29% and 38% of the U.S. residential market by 2016, according to a study by McGraw-Hill Construction and the National Association of Home Builders, up from 17% in 2011. Over the same period, the study projects that spending on green home technologies (everything from energy-efficient windows to foam insulation to on-site renewable energy generation) will rise from $17 billion to a range of $87 billion to $114 billion.
“The-off-grid houses are still pretty rare so typically renewable energies are being used to augment existing energies,” says Kevin Morrow, senior program manager for green building at the National Association of Home Builders. Energy and durability are the two main focuses of the green building boom. “They are the easiest to communicate to buyers,” says Morrow. “If you are talking about durability, you are talking about less maintenance, and energy efficiency means lower utility bills.” They also represent added security, an increasingly prized feature in the wake of storms like Sandy.
Several Northeastern homes on the market incorporate geothermal energy, including a mansion in Mendham Boro, N.J., that’s on sale for $3.5 million. The 12,700-square-foot Energy Star-certified house was crafted from low-toxic materials, withstood air tightness tests on the insulation, and has a water furnace geothermal system that provides hot water, radiant floor heat and air conditioning. While the geothermal system operates with the help of electricity, it can run off of a generator, and the total cost of power is impressively low for a big spread: The 18-room mansion’s annual electricity bill runs to less than $1 per square foot.
And then there’s the option of bypassing the power grid altogether. In Florida,Melody Key, a private island with a price tag of $10 million, is completely self-sufficient thanks to a solar inverter, an on-demand generator and a desalination system that ensures potable water. The island is accessible only by boat.
In Snowmass, Colo., an Elk Mountain retreat uses solar panels for heating and electricity, backed up by a propane generator. The four-bedroom house, which is on sale for $5.25 million, was constructed with 18-foot-thick straw bale walls and comes with a greenhouse for growing herbs and vegetables.
In rural Missouri’s Christian County, a construction materials scion is erecting a gigantic 72,000-square-foot mansion on a 500-acre spread that will be the first major energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable single-family residence of its size. Constructed of concrete and “Helix” steel fibers, Pensmore is designed to be earthquake and tornado resistant. Solar panels, geothermal energy and rainwater collection will ensure that the massive manse can function through any natural calamity.
Steven Huff, chairman of TF Concrete Forming Systems, told Forbes last yearthat he intends Pensmore to be both a home for his family and “a living laboratory for energy-efficiency and disaster-resistant technology for years to come.” He plans to complete it in 2014.
Homes powered by alternative energy sources tend to be high-end since the technologies are typically quite expensive. An Owl Lane estate in Boulder, Colo., offers prospective buyers an uncommon amenity: a way to earn money back. The 2.5-acre property has a 51-panel solar system with a 20-year assignable contract with utility company Xcel Energy. It means the power company actually cuts checks to the owner each year.
“The home is tied into the grid and any energy that is produced and not used onsite goes back into the power grid,” explains Brian Cooper, a broker with Legendary Properties Coldwell Banker, which is marketing the property for $2 million.
Besides disaster preparedness, these homes have another perk, says Horowitz: “A green home with a smaller footprint and alternative energy options has very good resale value.” If natural disasters keep pummeling the U.S., it might even get better.