I received an email last week from Jim Sargent asking if I was interested in touring four of his homes that had incredibly low monthly electric bills.

I’ve written several stories about Jim, who is a nationally acclaimed leader in energy-efficient home construction.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Last year, AndersonSargent Homes constructed four new homes on Sisters Lane in Oak Leaf.

The fact that four sisters — Elaine Shine, Paula Allen, Jan McKee and Connie Smades — all wanted to build new homes next to each other was a story in itself. What made the story even more remarkable is the fact that all wanted to build energy-efficient homes.

Hense, they called Jim Sargent and his partner Vickie Anderson.

While based in Waxahachie, Jim and Vickie are nationally recognized for their pioneering work in energy-efficiency construction. In fact, they have built custom homes that are completely off the grid — meaning, the owners pay no monthly electric bill while enjoying all the amenities that every modern home enjoys.

But I digress.

Jim and Vickie are planning an open house for the community on Sept. 7 to tour the four homes on Sisters Lane. Everyone will have a chance to see the different type of construction (all four homes are different, uniquely designed for each sister’s specifications), visit with the four families, look at their electric bills, and, learn more about the benefits of energy-efficient homes.

Jim asked me if I would like to come out for an early look before the Sept. 7 open house, and I couldn’t pass it up.

I was absolutely amazed.

Two of the sisters had installed solar panels on the roof of their homes. One was paying $20 a month for electricity, the other $16. A third sister had just installed solar panels and hadn’t received her first bill with the panels — though her electric bill was averaging between $90-$109 without them.

While there are many steps involved in the process, Jim explained the key to energy-efficiency is in the design.

“It doesn’t matter what size home you want to build, if it is designed right and properly sited on the plat, you have an extremely energy-efficient home with low monthly electric bills without using solar panels,” he said.

Then Vickie starts telling me about the cost of adding solar panels, pointing to Elaine’s home (she’s the one that just had them installed).

“When you factor in the tax credits and rebates from the federal government and the power company, Elaine’s solar panels added around $1,000 to the cost of her home,” she said.

I scratched my head in disbelief.

“How can that be possible?” I asked, thinking solar panels were a lot more expensive than that.

Vickie explained that if she would have purchased the panels outright, the cost would have been around $19,000. But, with the federal tax credits and other incentives being offered — for not only the solar panels but for the some of the energy-efficient construction of her new — the total added expense to the cost of her new home came to around $1,000.

“Every home is different, but we have all of those costs and rebates approved before we begin construction,” she said. “I think everyone who comes out to the open house on Sept. 7 is going to be surprised at how affordable it is to build an energy-efficient home and how quickly they will recoup the costs in terms of lower energy bills.”

As Vickie and Jim gave me a tour of the four homes — which vary in size from 1,600 to 3,000 square feet — he explained the construction process used.

“All four of these homes are what we call concrete construction,” he said, showing me the material that resembles a cinder block, only a lot more high-tech. Once the walls have been formed, rebar reinforces the walls and concrete is poured in blocks.

“These homes are completely fire proof and if a tornado hits, there might be some damage to the roof, but the houses aren’t going anywhere,” he said, showing me how the exterior walls are 10-inches thick.

When I asked about the cost of construction, Jim just smiled.

“You’d be surprised at how close it is to the costs for any wood-frame custom home,” he said. “It can be any size, any style. Each home is designed to fit the needs and lifestyle of the people who are going to live in it. What we do is take what they want and build it in a way that doesn’t require much energy to keep warm or cool and operate all of the home amenities. What I really enjoy is building homes that actually produce more electricity than they use, which is then sold back to the electric company.”

“You can do that?” I asked.

“You bet you can,” he said, as a wide smile beamed across his face. “The sisters have been in their homes for almost a year now and we just want to take the opportunity to invite the community out and show everyone what is possible — and how affordable it really is — to build a home that uses very little energy. We’re very passionate about what we do and with energy prices continuing to go up, it’s important for folks to know there’s cost-effective options available to them.”

The open house will take place from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7. The four homes are located on Sisters Lane in Oak Leaf.

DIRECTIONS: To get there from Waxahachie, take the U.S. Highway 77 Bypass west toward Midlothian. Exit Ovilla Road/FM 664 (at the Walgreens Distribution Center) and turn right toward Ovilla. Stay on Ovilla Road/FM 664 until you reach Westmoreland Road and turn right. Continue on Westmoreland Road for approximately two miles. Sisters Lane will be on the left. When you see a windmill in a farmer’s field, slow down as Sisters Lane will be the next street (approximately a quarter-mile).

For more information on AndersonSargent Homes, call 972-617-9897 or visit their website at www.andersonsargent.com. Their office is located at 3648 North Highway 77 in Waxahachie.

Neal White is the Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at neal.white@waxahachietx.com or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.