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Most model home tours offer a quick, somewhat desultory peek at the garage. That’s not the case at Babcock Ranch’s Innovation Way: A look inside seven of the nine garages along Hammock Lane, aka “Innovation Way,” reveals state-of-the-art technology not available in current homes for sale.

There are batteries that can power the entire home for up to 24 hours in the event of a power outage. There are tankless water heaters. There are electronic gizmos from which homeowners can monitor their own electricity usage, shutting off dormant appliances or areas of the home that aren’t requiring power.

One of the garages even has an electrical hookup that can charge the new Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck. Or, in the event of a power outage, the fully charged truck can return the favor, by powering the entire house for 12 to 24 hours.

Southwest Florida’s three largest home builders agreed to collaborate for the first time on developing more energy-efficient homes. D.R. Horton, Lennar and Pulte accepted an invitation from Babcock Ranch and agreed to partner with Florida Power & Light, which will spend the next two years monitoring the energy usages of the seven homes and comparing them to the two control homes. “It will be done with apps and computers,” says Stevany Cole, project manager for FPL. “We’ll be doing a lot of testing; seeing how they can better support the home comfortably.”

Lennar built five homes, including the two control homes, while D.R. Horton and Pulte each built two. Each house is in the 2,000- to 2,400-square-foot range and has different brands of accessories, lighting systems, sound systems and appliances. Even the insulation and some of the construction techniques vary from model to model.

Lennar built a “deconstructed house,” where some of the drywall remains open, so visitors can see the internal piping, air ducts and other innovations lying behind them.

“The idea was born in 2019,” says 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. D.R. Horton came aboard in September 2021 and built its two models within 64 days, says Kyle Knight, D.R. Horton’s director of operations.

“We’ll come in here and crush ’em,” Knight jokes of Pulte and Lennar, the first two national home builders at Babcock Ranch. 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 turns on at the push of a button with a temperature gauge instead of the traditional hot/cold knobs. The house is insulated with Core Foam injected into the spaces between the concrete block.

The homes also have varying styles of construction to study. “It’s wood panel on the second floor,” Dave Meyers, Lennar’s director of operations, says of one of those five 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. Inside the garage, there’s a 30-gallon water tank that collects runoff water from the shower and baths and repurposes it to become toilet water. That’s supposed to save consumers about 20% to 30% in water usage.

“What we’re able to do is drive incentives for the developers,” says 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.”

Pulte has a Pentair-branded water conditioning system with a three-part filtration device; a “Flo by Moen” smartwater 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.

“What’s going on here are lessons for the rest of the country,” says Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners, which bought and created Babcock Ranch.

“Innovation Way, that’s what this street is,” Hoban says. “It’s a lot of learning.” 

It all began when the different stakeholders convened. Hoban called it the “Innovation Summit.” “We had a bunch of forward-thinking folks in the room,” Hoban says. “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.” 

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