Blackout Fears Fuel Interest in Off-Grid Homes

Dark houses at dusk

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Major power grid failures and blackout events, such as the one in Texas after a winter storm in February, have more homeowners and builders interested in self-powered properties. As a result, more new construction and retrofitting projects are taking the effects of climate change into account, adding layers of protection to structures beyond energy-efficient considerations like solar panels.

“Houses can be built in much more efficient ways, so not just solar but they can have their own water filters, other sources of electricity generation, and a number of other efficient ways to manage their utilities,” Ben Keys, associate professor of real estate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told CNBC.

Recent weather events have made the need for resilient homes clear. About 10 million Texans were left without power after the ice storm this year. In fact, blackouts affecting 50,000 or more people have climbed more than 60% in the U.S. since 2015, according to research published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology. Climate change also presents other threats to homeowners as wildfires and flooding events increase. During California’s last wildfire season, more than 10,000 structures were destroyed, causing $10 billion in property damage.

Climate change is increasingly a factor in homebuying decisions, according to a Redfin survey conducted earlier this year. About 75% of respondents say they would be hesitant to buy a home in an area with climate risk. Furthermore, nearly half of those who plan to move say natural disasters and extreme temperatures are factors in their decision, the survey shows. Respondents between the ages of 35 to 44 are most likely to say that natural disasters, extreme temperatures, and rising sea levels play a role in their decisions about where to live. Respondents 45 or older are least likely to say the same.

Dvele, a small California-based builder, is constructing homes in a factory that come with solar, battery, and other elements to use less energy and operate longer off the grid. Such a home continuously monitors its own energy output and can identify ways to save more. If the power goes out, the home can continue to operate like normal.

The homes at highest risk for weather-related catastrophes are in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska as well as along the Mississippi River and in the Gulf and Atlantic coastal areas, according to CoreLogic’s Catastrophe Report. “It’s not just for extremists,” Keys told CNBC about designing homes to be more self-sufficient. “I think we’re going to see more and more people looking for ways in which they can protect themselves as there are increased risks from storms, more utility disruptions, and more need for resiliency.”

But the costs may get in the way of initial adoption, experts say. Adding this technology, particularly when retrofitting an existing home, can be pricey.