Solar Energy Comes to Suburbia

Learn how the Blue Skies development near Hemet, California is using solar-heated houses and leading the way in the "solar revolution."

| May/June 1977

  • Solar Suburbia
    The Blue Skies development in Hemet, California features houses with radiant solar heating with solar panels.

  • Solar Suburbia

When you drive by the first time, you might think the Blue Skies development near Hemet, California is "just another housing tract." As you approach the ten-foot-wide sign at the development's entrance, however — the one that says "Now Open ... Blue Skies Radiant Homes" — you're suddenly stopped by something unusual: namely, the words "solar heating" and "designed for total energy conservation" at the bottom of the sign, underneath a portrait of Ole Sol himself.

What the mini-billboard is saying, of course, is that the stucco haciendas in this development are solar-heated, and thus represent some of the very first solar-equipped tract homes in California ... if not the country.

The Man With the Plan

The man behind the Blue Skies development is Warren Buckmaster, a former diamond salesman who — at age 46 — decided to give up precious stones and go into the home-building business with Whittier, California contractor Marvin Lauren.

Being new to housing construction, Buckmaster did a little studying up before getting started ... and he found (among other things) that because of the area's benign climate, southern California contractors generally insulate their new homes poorly or not at all, and as a result, homeowners here pay higher utility bills than you might have thought. The average electrically heated home in the Hemet area, Buckmaster found, was using $1,000 worth of energy per year ... the average gas-heated household, $300 per annum. And it looks as though those costs could go up to $3,000 and $1,000, respectively, by 1986.

In light of the above information, two things seemed obvious to Warren Buckmaster. First: Given the choice, home buyers — even home buyers in southern California — would probably choose an energy-efficient house over an energy-wasteful one of equal price. Second: The smart thing for a housing developer to do would be to build a tract of reasonably priced solar-heated homes ... homes that'd be too energy efficient for buyers to turn down.

And so Warren Buckmaster went ahead and built seventeen such houses ... and buyers — sure enough — snapped them up. Buckmaster, in fact, managed to sell twelve of his seventeen Blue Skies dwellings months before they were even built!

1/19/2008 8:16:50 PM

I did a search to find "Blue Sky Homes Hemet California" and found your article. Warren Buckmaster was my uncle. Let me make a correction for the record. My father, Mr. W.F. Mac Donald (Old MacDonald) was the idea man, designer and contractor. Warren was a diamond salesman, not a designer, engineer, or in any other field vaguely related to designing energy systems or homes. My uncle was very ambitious and status conscious, hence this article, not even mentioning my father and the fact that he was the contractor and engineer behind the project. Bonnie Bowman

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