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Vista Montana Led the Way in 2003

Credits: ©2010 Clarum Homes

Back in 2003 a housing development became California’s largest zero energy community. Built by Clarum Homes, Vista Montaña in Watsonville was designed to reduce homeowner energy bills by up to 90 percent. Every home in Vista Montaña community is an Enviro-Home™, Clarum's state-of-the-art energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly home that also carry the Zero Energy Home designation from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Making history again in 2005, Clarum built the Vista Montaña apartment community which housed the country’s largest building integrated solar electric system in an apartment community. GE Energy supplied the 60-kilowatt system for the complex, making it possible for this community to produce over 90 megawatt hours of electricity annually. The units were constructed to use 40 percent less energy than would otherwise be typical. In total in Vista Montana, 177 single-family homes, 80 townhouses, and 132 apartments have been built with 1.2 to 2.4 kWp, and with a calculated energy yield of 1400 kWh/kWp.


Vista Montana Housing Complex

At the Watsonville, California, Vista Montana housing development, all 257 single-family dwellings and town houses come standard with an array of environmentally friendly features, including electricity-generating solar panels on the roof, sustainable building materials such as bamboo and cork flooring, special insulation and gas-bill busting tankless water heaters. ©2010 Rob Hammond - Consol

Vista Montaña Homes
Each Enviro-Home™ in the Vista Montaña community features an AstroPower solar electric home power system, a Rinnai tankless on-demand water heater, and a high-efficiency furnace as standard features. The homes also feature a foam-wrapped building envelope, increased insulation, radiant roof barrier, advanced HVAC technology, tightly sealed ducts, and low-E energy-efficient windows. Ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, water conserving plumbing fixtures, and water conserving landscaping are also incorporated, providing homeowners further utility savings.

"The Enviro-Home™ features that are included as standard equipment will provide more than $20,000 of added value to homebuyers at no cost," says John Suppes, Vice President of Clarum. "The Zero Energy Home is no longer a concept. It is a reality today thanks to the collaboration of several partners. With a combined goal of bringing the value of solar electric power, green-building products, and energy efficiency to homeowners, Clarum, AstroPower, and ConSol designed and built a home that will serve as a benchmark within the community - and within the industry."

AstroPower's solar electric power system enables homeowners to generate their own electricity, reduce their utility bills, and protect the environment. The systems range in size from 1.2 to 2.4 kilowatts, and are available for upgrade should homeowners wish to generate even more electricity.

In addition to its energy-efficient features, the Enviro-Home™ incorporates sustainable building materials, such as engineered lumber, recycled decking material, fiberglass doors, and offers recycled content carpet, bamboo flooring, cork flooring, environmentally friendly paint as optional items.

As part of the Department of Energy's Building America program, Vista Montana was one of Building America's link first near Zero Energy Homes communities. ConSol, Clarum's energy consultant and one of Building America's team leaders, used a systems engineering approach to produce homes on a community scale that used 40% less energy. The homes were engineered to minimize each home's energy loads through ConSol's ComfortWise(R) program so that most of the electrical needs could be met by the solar system. The ComfortWise(R) program includes the installation of tightly sealed duct work, a high-efficiency heating and ventilation system, smart glass (low-e windows), and third party testing and certification.

The Enviro-Home™ has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR® seal, ConSol's ComfortWiseSM designation, and the California Building Industry Institute's California Green Builder certification. These are all in addition to the Zero Energy Home designation from NREL.

Vista Montaña Apartments
GE's roof-integrated system replaced the flat cement roof tiles and blends seamlessly with the roofline. The integrated system provides a unique combination of functionality and attractiveness, adding value to the community and its residents. In addition to the substantial solar electric system, the Vista Montaña apartment community was designed with the goal of including as many other energy efficient and renewable building features as possible, without sacrificing the comfort of its residents.

Hydronic heating units were used to achieve energy efficiency through the combined function of heating both the water and the living space. More than 60 percent of the framing on this project was done with engineered lumber, and recycled-content decking was used for all patios and balconies.

With its 132 apartment homes, , many of which were designed for larger families, the Vista Montana Apartments community brought much-needed affordable housing to Watsonville. The community is located adjacent to the City of Watsonville's 14-acre John Martin Franich Park and the Ann Soldo Elementary School.

Financed with California Statewide Communities Development Authority tax exempt bonds, federal and state tax credits and City of Watsonville HOME Program funds, the community offers apartments to residents earning incomes at 50 percent to 60 percent of Santa Cruz County area median income levels. The Vista Montana Apartment community includes a community center, state-of-the-art fitness center and a computer learning center for resident use and after-school programs.

"With skyrocketing energy costs and continued concerns over energy shortages, Clarum's entire company focus was to combine renewable building practices and alternative energy solutions with affordable and entry-level housing," said John Suppes, then Vice President of Clarum Homes. "Not only do renewable building practices and energy efficient systems make sense for the environment, but they also provide a more comfortable and healthier environment to live in."

"The improved aesthetics and ease of installation offered by our roof integrated solar tiles gives Clarum the architectural freedom to incorporate solar energy into each and every home and apartment building," said Ali Iz, General Manager GE Energy - Solar Technologies.

"Clarum's efforts validate that production home builders ccan successfully build energy efficient, attractive and affordable housing without sacrificing quality or aesthetics," Rob Hammon, Ph.D., ConSol principal said: in 2005.

Following article from 2003:

Green’ homes grow: Solar-powered complex shines in Watsonville
Donna Jones Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 2003

When Rafael and Silvia Diaz went looking for a new home to house their growing family, location was uppermost in their minds, and they liked the view of the mountains from the new development going up on East Lake Avenue.

Robin Murray and husband, Sean, a California Department of Forestry firefighter, feel lucky to have won a below-market housing lottery that will allow them and 16-month-old daughter Mikaela to move into their first home in about a month.

But both couples say they got a bonus when they discovered their new homes are part of the nation’s largest zero-energy development — a fact that was celebrated by city, state and federal officials Thursday.

"You never expect to have a new house for a first home," Robin Murray said. "And then to have on top of that a home so technologically superior is pretty exciting."

The Diazes, who will move into their new home today, agree.

"It was a really good decision (to buy in Vista Montaña)," said Rafael Diaz, who drives a truck for Speed of Light Towing. "PG&E is going to be buying power from us."

John Suppes, vice president of Clarum Homes, the builder of Vista Montaña, said people tend to buy homes based on location and look, not energy efficiency, but his company is out to change that.

While other builders may offer solar panels or energy conserving appliances as an option, at Vista Montana, every home is "green" home.

All 257 single-family dwellings and town houses come standard with an array of environmentally friendly features, including electricity-generating solar panels on the roof, sustainable building materials such as bamboo and cork flooring, special insulation and gas-bill busting tankless water heaters.

"We’re looking more globally, for the long term," he said. "In the next 10 years, everyone is going to the renewables. We’d like to be a leader in that."

That leadership role is what drew officials from state and federal energy departments to Vista Montana’s grand opening Thursday.

"This is the largest housing development in the nation with homes designed to use almost no electricity," said Mark Ginsberg, who sits on the board of directors of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy project of the U.S. Department of Energy. "In the future, people will look back and say ‘subdivisions like this started in Watsonville.’"

Home builders are a conservative bunch, he said. As long as they are selling homes like the ones they’ve always built, they are unlikely to take risks with new technologies. That’s where companies like Clarum can make a difference.

"We hope all home builders will look at the lessons learned here," Ginsberg said.

Suppes said builders worry that they’ll have to eat the added expense of the green features, which drove up constructions costs of the Vista Montana homes about $20,000 each. But he believes the cost can be passed on to consumers. Education will convince them that the extra expense is worthwhile. He estimated the systems on the Vista Montana homes will pay for themselves in seven years.

For Marcia Franich, visiting the model homes Thursday and watching others rise from the ground nearby, the moment was bittersweet. She recalled when the her grandparents and uncle farmed apples on the 72 acres that comprise housing development, the adjacent Martin John Franich Park and nearby Ann Soldo Elementary School. She would have like to see the apple trees still in bloom, but she’s pleased the development will serve the community.

"I hope it succeeds and provides needed homes," she said.


  Vista Montana Zero Energy Case Study (735 kb)

  Vista Montana Solar Case Study (316 kb)


Clarum Homes (California, USA)