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On the market: Solar homes [Update]

March 20, 2010 |  7:00 am

A plan unveiled Monday by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposing a $2.50-per-month rate hike as of April 1 for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power energy consumers could result in electric bills rising 8.8% to 28.4% over the next year. Although some customers will turn off the lights and hope for the best, an increasing number of Southland homeowners are insulating themselves against rising costs with green options.

“I call it my green hedge on energy inflation,” says Ray Wyman Jr., 54, of his decision to install a 4.2-kilowatt photovoltaic solar system on the roof of his 2,000-square-foot home in Orange in June 2009.
The business writer’s peak season electric bills with Southern California Edison topped $180 in 2009. Since going solar, Wyman’s monthly electric bill is 92 cents.

“That covers my connection fee and tax,” he said. “As long as I am in positive territory on my power bank, I don’t pay anything. But even when the panels were hobbled by the rain in December and January, our bills were still 92 cents."
The average cost for a 5-kilowatt system is about $32,500, or $6,500 per kilowatt, said Jonathan Bass, a spokesman for SolarCity, a national solar provider.
However, Bass said tax credits and state-funded residential programs can bring the net cost of a system down to $12,000. The Federal Investment Tax Credit for solar systems covers 30% of net cost. [Update noon Sunday: An earlier version of this story said the Federal Investment Tax Credit for solar systems covers 30% of net cost but is limited to $2,000.] 

And based on 2008 residential installations, DWP reports that solar incentive payments for residential customers covered 30% to 50% of installation costs.

Rather than pay upfront, Wyman got a zero-down solar lease from SolarCity. The 15-year monthly lease costs him $95 a month (some start at $40) and includes all maintenance and system removal as an option at the end of the term.
Solar systems have a life of 30 to 40 years. Most standard panel manufacturer's warranties are good for 25 years. However, experts say it is important to consider your home’s orientation. South-facing roofs with minimal or no shade, for example, are ideal for solar production.

Bass said customers typically save 40% to 80% on their monthly electricity bills and average 15% net savings on their total energy costs, “meaning that their lease payment and electricity bill with solar is 15% less than their electricity bill was before they installed solar. So they are cash-flow positive from Day One,” he said. . . .

Wyman uses SolarCity’s SolarGuard Gateway Web-connection to check his power production and expects a check from Edison around the anniversary of the system installation. AB 920, passed in October, requires state utility companies to pay customers for surplus solar electricity generated on an annual basis.

Solar is not the only option for homeowners looking for relief from rising utility bills.

“There are lots of shades of green. There is a lot green washing from companies that make claims about certain products that claim to be green. But it is important for consumers to know what their priorities are and do their own research,” said Samantha Kaplan, communications director for Go Green Construction, a Northridge construction firm that specializes in eco-friendly homes.

One of Go Green Construction’s recent projects is the 4,300-square-foot Go Green Home, a $250,000 case study of sustainable home design in Westchester scheduled for completion in June that will be open for public workshops and tours.

The five-bedroom, 4½ bathroom home will have a 5.6 kilowatt solar roof system, a rainwater harvesting system and a wine cellar made of 100% recycled and reclaimed materials. It is pre-rated for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification, the highest green building rating set forth by a points system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Polly Osborne, a LEED-certified architect and owner of Osborne Architects in West Los Angeles, has been incorporating green principles in every project for more than 20 years and said simple strategies -- buying Energy Star appliances, adding room fans and attic fans, sealing the home with triple-pane windows, adding and replacing insulation, using LED or natural lighting elements, and choosing wood finishes such as bamboo and renewable finishes and recycled tiles when remodeling -- can have a big effect over a lifetime.
“Orienting a new house for optimum heating and cooling, for instance, takes awareness, not cash,” Osborne said. “There are a lot of choices. In the old days you battled to have one green countertop. But now, all the finish materials have green options that are the same price as non-green for almost every product.”

Osborne said the natural lighting, LED bulbs and solar panels in her 1,100-square-foot Westwood home, built in 1920, keep her monthly electric bill around $10.

Despite obvious benefits, Pierre Stooss, a certified EcoBroker with Prudential California Realty in Santa Monica, said that for many home buyers, green is still a niche.

“I would love to say more people are going green, but with the economy changing, the green house, especially the LEED platinum and gold homes, is really a niche. But I think that will change in the future. It is not a disadvantage to have an energy-efficient home. If you have solar panels that will heat your pool or a reinsulated home with duel-paned windows and other energy-efficient elements, that is definitely an advantage with buyers,” he said.

Osborne said that although homeowners are still committed to green, budgets are tighter. “In the current economy, we need to review green options and upfront costs more carefully,” she said.

Don’t like the look of your DWP bill? Here are some green homes on the market.

751-Fairax-Ave-3 751 N. Fairfax Ave., Unit 5, L.A.

Listed at $759,000 at Trulia, this two-bedroom, two-bathroom loft was built in 2009 close to the Grove and Farmers Market. This complex is 40% more energy efficient than California’s strict energy code for new buildings, according to listing agent Joseph Treves with Deasy/Penner & Partners in Beverly Hills. The pre-rated LEED platinum green building complex features energy-efficient resources and green offerings such as solar panels and drought-tolerant landscaping. All 12 lofts at the Cherokee Studio complex are for sale. Prices range from $595,000 to $1,175,000. Visit for more information.

6509_la_mirada_ave_astaire_masterbedroom 6509 La Mirada Ave., L.A.

Listed at $720,000 at Trulia, this two-bedroom, three-bathroom single-family home, built in 2009, is Eco-Green certified and features 1,547 square feet, a solar electric system, a two-car garage and second-story balcony views.

1621_Rockwood_exterior 1621 Rockwood St., L.A.

Listed at $315,000 at Trulia, this two-bedroom, one-bathroom condominium, built in 1913, is in a four-unit building and features 770 square feet, a solar electric system, bamboo floors, dual-pane windows, a tankless water heater and down-payer assistance for qualified buyers.

1619 Rockwood St., L.A.

Like its sister property above in the four-unit building, this two-bedroom, one-bathroom condominium, built in 1913, was remodeled in 2009. Listed at $315,000 on Movoto, the home features 770 square feet, a solar electric system, bamboo floors, dual-paned windows, a tankless water heater and down-payer assistance for qualified buyers.

67thstreet 251 E. 67th St., L.A.

Listed at $345,000 at Trulia, this newly constructed townhouse features three-bedrooms and 2 1/2-bathrooms in 1,350 square feet. The home features energy-efficient lighting, a tankless water heater, a solar electric system and down-payer assistance for qualified buyers. The building has three identical units also for sale (253 E. 67th St., 255 E. 67th St. and 257 E. 67th St.) at $345,000. Enterprise Home Ownership Partners Inc. is overseeing the project aimed at helping low-income families find affordable housing. Visit for more information.

939_20th_Street 939 20th St., Unit 4, Santa Monica

Listed at $2,196,000, this newly constructed townhome, in what is anticipated to be Santa Monica’s first LEED Silver certified community, features four bedrooms and 4 1/2 bathrooms in 2,969 square feet and a variety of energy-efficient features. “It is almost a custom, luxury quality with responsible building,” says Jeff Sandorf, a partner with listing company Amalfi Estates in the Pacific Palisades. In addition to Unit 4, all other townhomes in the eight-unit building are on the market with prices ranging from $1,385,000 to $1,499,000.

Preston 1301 Preston Way, L.A. (Venice)

Listed at $2,189,000 (a $300,000 reduction) and certified LEED platinum, this two-story American Institute of Architects  award-winning contemporary single-family home features four bedrooms and 4 3/4 bathrooms in 3,115 square feet. The home has an insulated foundation, energy- and water-saving technologies, radiant-heat floors, solar technology, Energy Star appliances, sustainable materials and a recycled Kohler bathtub from the 1930s.

-- Michelle Hofmann

Comments? Thoughts?

Photos: From top, solar installation courtesy of Ray Wyman Jr.; 751 N. Fairfax Ave., Alex Lombardo, the Sunset Team Inc., Keller Williams Realty; 6509 La Mirada Ave., Pat McQueen, BlackStar Realty; 251 E. 67th St. and Rockwood Street, Enterprise Home Ownership Partners; bottom, Deasy/Penner & Partners in Beverly Hills.