The three of the largest home builders in Southwest Florida are for the first time collaborating on creating more sustainable, energy-efficient homes as they look toward the future with the project happening at Babcock Ranch, off State Road 31 in southeast Charlotte County.
D.R. Horton, Lennar and Pulte partnered with Babcock Ranch and Florida Power & Light on a project called Innovation Way. Hammock Lane, where nine model homes have been built since last fall, is part of the project. Lennar built five homes, and Pulte and D.R. Horton each built two, ranging from 2,000 to 2,400 square feet.
“Innovation Way, that’s what this street is,” Hoban said. “It’s a lot of learning.” It all began when the different stakeholders convened at what Hoban called the “Innovation Summit.”
“We had a bunch of forward-thinking folks in the room,” he said. “To their credit, everyone bought into it. What can we do to pragmatically showcase this? The intent was not to do something cool. The intent was to do something practical.”
Two of the Lennar homes are control homes built with current standards for insulation and appliances while the third is a deconstructed house where internal piping and air ducts remain visible instead of being covered with drywall so future homeowners can see them.
The rest of the six homes are each using different state-of-the-art brands with prototypes hoping to enhance the energy efficiency of homebuilding techniques in the future. Although the models are available to purchase, the new technology inside will not be available until after the studies are done.
Over the next two years, FPL will monitor the energy efficiency of each home and compare the data with the two control homes. “It will be done with aps and computers,” said Stevany Cole, project manager for FPL. “We’ll be doing a lot of testing. Seeing how they can better support the home comfortably.”
All three home builders will share the data, and they’ll be able to apply the results to the future of homebuilding across the country.
“The idea was born in 2019,” said Tom Hoban, CIO and president of Kitson & Partners, which owns Babcock Ranch. “Before COVID hit, it was coming into shape. That slowed us down a little bit.”
Lennar and Pulte joined the collaboration first and D.R. Horton came aboard in September 2021, building its two models within 64 days, said Kyle Knight, D.R. Horton’s director of operations. “We’ll come in here and crush ‘em,” Knight joked of Pulte and Lennar, the first two national home builders at Babcock. D.R. Horton led the nation with 82,000 homes built in 2021.
Inside the D.R. Horton model called the Condale there is Deako-branded lighting, a Sonos-wired sound system, Carrier-branded infinity air purifier air conditioning and a Moen-branded smart shower. The shower is activated at the push of a button with a temperature gauge instead of a traditional hot/cold knob. In addition, the house is insulated with Core Foam injected into the spaces between the concrete block.
The five Lennar homes have different brands of appliances, gadgetry and construction materials. “It’s wood panel on the second floor,” Dave Meyers, Lennar’s director of operations, said of one of the homes. “There’s a cable system that holds and ties down the wall more efficiently. We all needed to find our own niche. And we all want to help advance the building industry. That’s part of the living laboratory.”
Another one of the Lennar homes has a Greyter-branded water efficiency setup with a 30-gallon water tank in the garage collecting runoff water from the shower and baths, repurposing it to become toilet water to save consumers about 20% to 30% in water usage.
“What we’re able to do is drive incentives for the developers,” said John Bell, vice president of business development for Greyter. The incentives, collaborating with local and state governments could mean expediting permits to build. “Our solutions give them a little bit of leverage.”
Through Pulte’s partnership with Ford, the car company’s F-150 Lighting pickup truck can be charged from the home’s electrical outlet, and in the event of a power outage, the truck’s battery can power the house for 12 to 24 hours.
Pulte also had a Pentair-branded water conditioning system with a three-part filtration device; a Flo by Moen smart water shutoff valve that detects leaks and a Rinnai-branded recirculating, tankless water heater that so far is unavailable to consumers. The Leviton Wi-Fi-enabled load center tells the homeowners where they are spending their money on electricity. Each of the three builders installed different brands of batteries that can power the house for up to 24 hours in event of a power outage.
Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners, which bought and created Babcock Ranch, expects many to be paying attention to Innovation Way. “What’s going on here are lessons for the rest of the country,” he said.