It’s a typical Orange County late morning on April 12, when the cool onshore breeze is colliding with the hot noontime sun. But as the outside air pushes inside with the opening of a new CitySquare townhome’s front door and mingles with interior air already moving thanks to ceiling fans, I need a parka.
CitySquare resembles many such complexes that have popped up recently. Different colored boxes are connected to one another as if Lego blocks from random sets. The three-story residences are attractive inside but not “wow”-inducing. They are homey.
As with other recent projects in nearly built-out Orange County, this one rose in an area you wouldn’t associate with residential development. CitySquare is on an office-y stretch of Gillette Avenue in Irvine. Looking out model windows, I see a busy street, high-rises and more home building. On the plus side, retail, freeways, the airport, restaurants and job sites are nearby.
What really makes CitySquare different is on a banner unfurled at the invite-only unveiling: “1st Zero Net Energy All-Electric Attached Community in California.” Homes are designed to use no more power annually than what is generated by their rooftop solar panels. Scottsdale, Arizona-based Meritage Homes partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Energy Commission, the city of Irvine, Southern California Edison and the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to design and build the place.
Energy-efficient appliances include heating and cooling units that use no natural gas. Greenhouse gases are not produced, and indoor air quality is optimal because no carbon monoxide or other harmful toxins are emitted. Smart controls take advantage of lower utility rates depending on the time of day. A sign in a three-bedroom, 1,868-square-foot model estimates energy savings at $103 monthly, $1,233 annually and $63,641 over 30 years. Prices start in the low $800,000s, with four-bedroom, 2,171-square-foot units available.
CitySquare is “a win-win-win-win for every homeowner, the city, the utilities and society,” says EPRI’s Mark McGranaghan. With the recent drought, bottlenecked roads and intense pressure on the power grid, it’s difficult to cheer more new homes. If we can’t stop them, we should demand they be built right.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.