DALLAS -- The irony about the Home of Tomorrow at the State Fair of Texas is that everything there is available today. Most of us just don't know it.
"It's not futuristic, Jetson-type stuff," said Joe Harberg, former owner of Current Energy in Dallas, who is sponsoring the three-house exhibit.
More than 80 area company sponsors collaborated on building the exhibit, which includes an 8-by-20-foot micro-house, a three-room tent featuring green designer touches, and an open patio with a pizza oven and "solar tree" of energy-producing panels.
But the centerpiece of the exhibit is the Net-Zero Energy Home, a 1,600-square-foot house built by Scarlett Custom Homes of Frisco that produces its own electricity and sells excess electricity back to a power company. It does this using a solar tree, geothermal heating and air conditioning, a solar-powered water heater, along with insulation, LED lights, triple-pane windows and other strategies to reduce energy consumption.
There's something for everyone at this exhibit, from attic foam to a robotic lawn mower. And be sure to check out recycled materials, like marble countertops, that provide savings on cost and help for the environment.
Here are some of the most interesting products that you may not know are available.
Solar tree: A four-panel array by San Antonio-based Solar Community costs between $5,000 and $6,000 before a 30 percent federal tax credit.
This "tree" is actually a series of poles crafted in a tree shape that is design to hold up to 12 solar panels. It is motorized so it can track the sun as it moves through the sky, giving a 40 percent increase in production over solar panels on the ground. A federal tax credit is set to expire Dec. 31, 2016. Solar Community also will lease the tree. More at www.SolarCommunity.com.
Open-cell foam: While the solar tree is cool, most homeowners should start on the energy-efficiency road with better insulation, said Jim Ricks, project specialist with Greenland Energy Dynamics, a consulting firm in Addison. He recommends an open-cell foam from Bayer Material Science that is sprayed into walls during construction and on attic walls and rafters. The white foam kept the Net-Zero home attic at a comfortable 73 degrees this week, when outside temperatures were in the high 80s. Ricks said the foam would save 30 percent on heating and cooling costs, and dust is almost eliminated because the foam coating seals the attic. Cost: $1.70 a square foot.
Recycled materials: One of the most popular design elements in the Net-Zero home has been countertops made from recycled marble or quartz combined with polyester resins from Santa Marguerite, an Italian company. Harberg said the product is about a third cheaper than solid granite. Other surfaces on display include recycled rubber floorboards for the porch, walls decorated with refurbished boards from old American farms, and refurbished cabinets painted and outfitted with new hardware.
Light-emitting diodes: The Net-Zero house has 81 LED lights, which together use less energy than just five of the old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent bulbs, Harberg said. Although pricey, they have 10 times the life of a traditional bulb, in addition to low energy usage. LED lighting also has improved in color, which is now more white than blue, he said. Cost: $60 a bulb by LALED, a Louisiana-based manufacturer.
Energy, water home monitors: These systems monitor water, gas, electric and carbon output in real time and calculate bills. "A monitor is the No. 1 way to get people to stop using resources," Harberg said. "Watching the monitor becomes an addiction." Phantom power from unused cellphone chargers, television sets and other connected appliances can total up to 20 percent of your electric bill, he said. Using a monitor, you may want to disconnect those items when not in use. Cost: $2,300 for a system from Greenland that connects with an iPhone.
Blown-on limestone: Originally developed in Europe to restore historic buildings, this blend of limestone and other stones and minerals creates a natural surface after being hydraulically blown over a surface. Cost and labor are cheaper than the real stuff. $10 a square foot by StoneCoat, a McKinney company.
Geothermal A/C and heating system: The Net-Zero home has a geothermal system that uses about 10 percent of the power of a normal air conditioner, Ricks said.
The system requires 300-foot holes to be dug under the house which don't come cheap -- around $2,500 per hole. One hole is required for every ton of A/C needed. The geothermal units themselves cost $5,000 to $7,000 per ton, he said. The 30 percent federal tax credit also applies to these systems.
Ductless A/C and heat pump: This 2-ton unit made by Goodman was in the micro-house, where duct work was not practical. With a 13 SEER rating and the latest coolant, it is efficient and practical. The indoor portion of the unit sits high on a wall and is remotely controlled. Cost: $1,333.
Robotic lawn mower: This fun, green product operates on sensors and uses lithium batteries (no emissions). It requires no programming or parameter wires. Designed in Italy, LawnBott's computer reprograms itself to adapt to the cutting requirements of your yard. Cost: $1,119 on Amazon or www.LawnBotts.com
Microwave drawer: Made by Sharp, this microwave is designed with a drawer that can be pulled out from a waist-high, built-in cabinet for easier access to dishes, especially during cooking. Cost: $800 at Lowe's Home Improvement.
Teresa McUsic's column appears Fridays.