Sacramento Municipal Utility District partners with builders to deliver “Home of the Future” technology now

Two recent projects showcase near net-zero energy potential

What do a low-income housing apartment complex and a high-end residential housing complex have in common? While it is true that both were built in downtown Sacramento in the middle of a downturn, the really important answer is the approach to designing and building both emphasizing near net-zero electrical energy use. In other words, the projects are designed and built to produce almost as much electrical energy as they use.  It is the local electric utility that has been the driving force behind this approach to building in the region. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) calls these dwellings “homes of the future.”

In 2008, SMUD completed its first home of the future, a LEED platinum-certified home in suburban Folsom. That demonstration project intrigued other builders, and in the years since, despite the region being one of the slowest to recover from the housing downturn, projects are being completed and more are being planned.

Take the La Valentina apartments, for example. It is Sacramento’s first ever near net-zero multifamily apartment building and features rooftop solar photovoltaic panels, Energy Star appliances, water saving fixtures, and on-site water retention basins. La Valentina consists of two innovative buildings featuring 81 apartments ranging in size from studios to three-bedrooms. The apartments are affordable to households meeting income eligibility guidelines. After nearly twenty months of construction, it opened in August. SMUD supplied financial incentives of nearly $487,000 that paid for the solar and efficiency measures. SMUD collaborated with the National Renewable Energy Lab and the builder, Domus Development.

Residents at the La Valentina North building can expect to save $521 annually as a result of energy efficiency and solar production. The building will use an estimated 63 percent less total energy (electricity and natural gas combined) than new buildings that meet the state’s minimum Title 24 building standards.

The adjacent La Valentina Station utilized Savings by Design, a statewide program encouraging high-performance design and construction. La Valentina Station is aiming for LEED silver certification. It exceeds the state building code requirements for energy measures by 26 percent. 

Additionally, La Valentina is an in-fill project built on land where an auto repair shop left the soils highly contaminated. Prior to La Valentina, the sites sat vacant for more than twenty years. It is located in the heart of downtown near public transportation, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All told the energy efficiency measures will yield greenhouse gas reductions of more than 53,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 210 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 156 pounds of nitrous oxide.

The project also features 5,000 square feet of ground floor retail and an on-site community center offering services to tenants.

Move a few miles south in this downtown area and you’ll discover the mIhomevstreet community. The unique name is hardly the only aspect that makes this housing development different from just about everything else in California or in the nation.

This new energy-efficient community is currently under construction in the Northwest Land Park area. Like La Valentina, these homes of the future are an infill project designed with the potential for net-zero electrical energy use. SMUD is providing research and development incentives for these technologies including:

•   Rooftop solar photovoltaic systems and combined photovoltaic and solar water heating systems;

•   Advanced structural insulated wall and roof panels;

•   “Green switches” to control dedicated plug loads;

•   LED lighting throughout the entire house and garage with estimated 40,000-hour life utilizing only 10 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs;

•   High performance heat pump heating and cooling system; and

•   “Energy harvesting” wireless switching for lighting control.

Other forward-thinking features include a wireless home control system that allows energy monitoring; control of door locks and lighting; and a video camera monitoring security system for real-time use by the homeowner through a smart phone, smart tablet or personal computer.

Another very appealing and energy-saving aspect is the community’s location. It’s proximity to downtown Sacramento, just one mile from the front steps of the state Capitol, provides easy walking, biking, or public transit to work, recreational activities and major attractions.  They have a smaller “carbon footprint” than conventional new homes. It is estimated that on average the homes would deliver emissions reductions of more than 900 pounds of carbon dioxide compared to an average home.

In addition to providing customers better value and comfort, especially long term, the entire SMUD customer community benefits from the La Valentina and mIhomevstreet developments in terms of lower power costs for all customers. The homes produce the most energy when it’s most needed—on hot summer days—so less electricity will be needed to serve them. That is also the same time when power can be more expensive for a utility to buy.              

About SMUD

As the nation’s sixth largest community-owned electric service provider, SMUD has been providing low-cost, reliable electricity for more than 65 years to Sacramento County (and a small portion of Placer County). SMUD is a recognized industry leader and award winner for its innovative energy efficiency programs, renewable power technologies, and for its sustainable solutions for a healthier environment. SMUD is the first large California utility to receive more than 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources. For more information, visit smud.org.

La Valentina Apartments, Sacramento. 

The just-completed, sustainable-living La Valentina apartments sit in the heart of downtown Sacramento. They offer the potential for near net-zero energy use, producing nearly as much as they use, for eligible low-income tenants. The complex is located near light rail and close to high density retail and commercial areas.

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