Wrapping solar power together with home automation could be the ticket to bigger sales in North Carolina for one homebuilder. Meritage Homes, www.meritagehomes.com, Raleigh, N.C., is offering Echo technology in its new homes, hoping to appeal to buyers that seek that energy-efficient residence.

The builder is bundling solar-powered electricity and hot water with automated thermostat controls under a single package. As part of this effort, Meritage Homes is partnering with SEM (Southern Energy Management), www.southern-energy.com, Morrisville, N.C., to install the Echo solar system.

According to the company, Echo can deliver twice the energy of a basic solar electric PV (photovoltaic) system. This is done by supplementing conventional panels with solar thermal technology that captures the heat from the PV panels. Along with electricity, the panels will also generate hot water for washing and bathing.

Meritage says this enables it to offer homes that use 70-80% less energy than a standard code-built home in the United States. Mixing in a bit of automation, thanks to Energy Star-qualified thermostat controls, adds a bit of flare. These controls automatically reduce heating and cooling bills by at least another 10%, according to Meritage, and offer a bit of connectivity, thanks to remote thermostat control via a smartphone.

Could the trend of coupling energy efficiency with home automation help builders tap into a new market demographic? Younger buyers remain highly tech-savvy, wanting the latest in home controls and technology. More and more, companies are targeting this demographic with offers for bigger and better technology. That being said, it would behoove a builder to get in on the action, and appeal to the tech-savvy nature of today’s buyer.

“We love the fact that by joining forces with Meritage and EchoFirst, SEM can introduce more people to the benefits of solar power and energy efficiency,” says Tom Fitzpatrick, residential sales director, Southern Energy Management. “Providing homeowners an affordable way to integrate solar in the construction process has gone over well, with close to a dozen systems constructed or in process, confirming it has been extremely well received by homeowners. This makes the entire process easier and more affordable, and people get to enjoy energy savings in their new home starting with the very first utility bill.”

What will tomorrow’s home feature in order to appeal to a new buyer demographic? Meritage Homes is hoping technology and solar power work hand-in-hand in order to show buyers what is possible with the use of new technologies.