Most builders nowadays eagerly tout their homes' energy efficiency.
Bragging about energy-saving features has become so pervasive, a reporter's eyes can glaze over and his mind can wander the moment the word "green" enters the conversation.
But with new-home sales sluggish and foreclosures driving down prices, builders looking to distinguish their product from the large resale inventory have beefed up energy-saving features in their homes.
So much so that their designs stand out even at a time when calling something "green" has become a cliché.
When it comes to foreclosures, new-home builders can't compete on price, said Dan Hogan, supervisor of Tucson Electric Power Co.'s residential energy-efficiency programs.
So to lure buyers, they have to show that there's added value with a new home. And for many builders, that means taking on additional costs to make homes more efficient.
"To build an energy-efficient home, it costs more money," Hogan said. "You just have to put in better pieces."
Meritage Homes - which has developments in Arizona, California, Texas, Nevada and Florida - is one of those builders that has begun aggressively promoting its homes as power savers.
At Solara, a development in Marana, Meritage has a deconstructed model that shows off energy-saving features that would otherwise be hidden by finished construction. Part of the goal of that model is to show buyers the differences between a foreclosure or resale and a newly built home, said Jeff Grobstein, Meritage Homes' desert-region president.
"We feel at the end of the day, it's so compelling to get a much better-built home," Grobstein said.
Homes built with the Meritage Green label have spray foam insulation that creates a tight envelope, keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The homes have water-saving plumbing, efficient appliances, drought-tolerant landscaping and, of course, solar panels.
The energy-saving components do cost more, but Meritage Homes says they offer the features at no additional costs to buyers. Adding to the cost of a new home in a depressed market might make for a tough sale.
According to Meritage Homes' website, properties in Solara, near West Moore and North Tangerine Farms roads, range between $142,900 and $186,900.
Hogan, of TEP's residential energy program, said that while Meritage isn't the only builder to take considerable steps to make homes more energy efficient, the company's homes do have some features that set them apart.
As it turns out, Hogan said, solar panels work less efficiently when they're hot. So the panels Meritage uses have a system that moves cool air underneath, making them more effective. Then, the hot air from under the solar panels is used to warm water, he said.
So far, Meritage Homes has been showing it can build a very energy-efficient home, Hogan said. Meritage Green homes have had an average HERS Index of 28.4, he said. HERS, a national rating that stands for Home Energy Rating System, gauges a home's energy consumption, giving a more efficient home a lower score.
Standard new homes generally have a HERS index of 100, while a typical Energy Star home will have an index of about 80.
Meritage, with scores below 30, has homes more than 70 percent more efficient than a standard new home.
Other builders are promoting energy efficiency, albeit to a lesser extent than Meritage. Maracay Homes, which has several new-home developments around Tucson, also uses spray insulation, energy-efficient appliances and plumbing that saves water, said James Attwood, the builder's construction manager.
While energy efficiency generally has increased in new homes, in today's market, new-home builders aren't necessarily even competing with one another. They need to distinguish themselves from financially distressed properties that can often be snatched up at bargain prices.
Contact reporter Dale Quinn at email@example.com or 573-4197.