Solar Powered Condos: The Wave of the Future?

by Mark Wellborn

Click photo for full slideshow
Solar Powered Condos: The Wave of the Future?
1337 Harvard Street

If there were still doubts about whether or not DC was affected by the nation’s energy crisis, look at these numbers. The price for a gallon of gas is approaching $5 at certain stations in DC. Energy prices have jumped 28 percent in the DC area over the last year and some people are literally having the lights turned out because they can’t pay the electricity bill. A recent article in the Washington Post said that “electricity customers in Maryland and the District will overpay for power by more than $1.9 billion through mid-2011.”

With little end in sight to these escalating prices, homes that come with alternative energy components are becoming increasingly attractive options for buyers. The “first solar powered condos” in DC at 1337 Harvard Street have been on and off the market over the last six months, but are the beginning of a building trend that we may see a lot more of in the coming years.

The condos were built by the Foundation Development Group, a real estate company founded by Kenneth W. Richardson III, Kyma Harrison, and Guy Lambert. In their first years, the trio renovated and sold homes in Connecticut, but as the market slowed, they shifted their focus to DC. In 2005, they decided that any renovations they did going forward would be green and energy efficient. The three units at 1337 Harvard are the first product of this pledge.

The group completely gutted and renovated an existing row house for the project. The two and three-bedroom condos are priced between $425,000 to $599,000, and range in size from 900 square feet to 1,600 square feet. However, the real story here is how much the owner of one of these can save on utilities. Here are some highlights:

  • The electricity for each condo is created by a system of solar panels on the building’s roof. Anything that requires electricity in the home is powered with energy created by the panels. When the system generates more power than the residence needs it will automatically send the surplus back through the electric meter and a credit will be registered for the power being delivered back to the utility grid. In short, the home owner gets a credit for all the energy it produces and this is reflected in their monthly bill.
  • In each unit, there is a small water heater that heats water only as it is needed. That means that the only time you pay for hot water is when you turn on the faucet. (In most homes, there is a huge water heater in the basement that is heating water constantly.)
  • All the toilets are dual flush which means that there are two options depending on, ahem, what type of business you are taking care of. The #1 option uses less water if all that is in the bowl is liquid. The #2 option is the less frequently used option for bigger to-dos. And if you don’t choose the right option, it is not necessarily the end of the world. “I have witnessed a #2 using a #1 option,” Guy Lambert told UrbanTurf. “It still works.”
  • The shower heads have a “low-flow” option that brings to mind the Seinfeld episode in which all the shower heads in the building are being switched to low-flow and a livid Cosmo Kramer goes out on the black market to find a shower head that is meant for elephants. Well, you do not need to resort to those drastic measures in these units (all heads have an option for high pressure), but the low-flow option can reduce your home water consumption up to fifty percent.

These various means of energy production and conservation add up to annual energy savings for each unit of approximately $5,400. Combine that with one-time federal tax credits of $2,500 for the use of solar panels, a high efficiency furnace and an energy efficient water heater, and the first year savings approach $8,000. In ten years, the savings could equal the down payment on one of the two-bedroom units.

Unfortunately, the group is not planning other DC-area units, at least not yet.

“As it stands right now, we are focused on these,” Kyma Harrison told UrbanTurf. “Upon the sale of these units, we will look into other options in DC.”


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