Take a tip from remodelers: Performance is the new green.
Building to a performance-based model for home construction can mean hitting the sweet spot between high-minded green principles and bottom-line market appeal. Even an ultra-green homeowner can love dependable hot water and a great return on investment. And the most calculating homebuyer appreciates the value of sustainable building practices and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. By promoting a message of whole-house performance, architects and builders can attract either type of customer.
What is performance?
Performance building is all about compounding energy-saving features to produce a highly efficient home. From adequate insulation, to energy choices, to proper equipment sizing, home performance relies on a comprehensive approach to construction that optimizes energy use and thermal comfort.
For the green customer, a performance home's ability to consume less energy than a comparably amenitized product makes it the more sustainable choice. Paired with renewable energy systems, a propane-enhanced performance home can more than holds its own with this type of client.
For the cost-conscious buyer, a performance home's energy efficiency means aggressive rates of return on investment. Replete with highly desirable, low-maintenance appliances, the propane home feels great now and presents just as well at resale.
Who buys performance?
Some builders first learned to refine their approach to these buyer types when the post-Boomer generation entered the housing market. "In the last five or six years, 75 percent of our clients have been baby boomers who come to us for the last home they plan to build," says Don Ferrier, a third-generation Texas builder and president of Ferrier Cos., who built the first LEED Platinum home in the state. "They say, 'I know this will cost me a little more but I think it's the wisest investment I'll ever make.' They also say it's the right thing to do [for the environment], but that's not their main driver. The other 25 percent of our business has been a younger group, people from 25 to 35, who have the exact opposite outlook. They say, 'This is the right thing to do for us, our kids, and the future.'"
Photo credit: Travis Laminack Photography
To meet all these demands, Ferrier has been marketing extremely high-performance products. One of his signature structures is a home his company built for his daughter, Heather Ferrier, general manager at Ferrier Cos. Another home on Eagle Mountain Lake in Fort Worth, Texas, uses structural insulated panels (SIPs) and a wind turbine to achieve net zero energy use. Its net zero energy use, plus a slew of other green products and practices, made it the first LEED Platinum home in Texas.
After more than 25 years of building sustainable homes, Don Ferrier is convinced that clients can indeed have the best of both worlds: amenities and an energy-efficient, high-performance home, although trade-offs are often part of the equation. "The clients who come to me know that first and foremost they want a home that performs well," says Ferrier. "Typically we're able to find the right balance."
To illustrate that point, Ferrier tells the story of one couple whose budget didn't quite cover all they wanted in their new home. "In the end they took out the fire-slate granite, the hardwood floors and the screen porch in order to keep the SIPs and the tankless water heater. They realized that down the road they could replace the Formica countertops with granite, but you can't easily build the energy savings back in. It's a balance but our clients typically opt for energy performance because that's why they came to us in the first place."
How does propane fit in?
Heather Ferrier's home features a propane direct-vent fireplace as well as a propane cooktop and outdoor grill. Her father estimates that at least two-thirds of his clients who live outside of a major city currently use or request propane, either as a primary energy source or as a back-up to solar or wind power. Whatever the case, propane allows builders to achieve the high standards their customers expect, whether to maximize their investment or to contribute to a greener planet.
To see just how many residential applications can be optimized for propane performance, take a tour of our new Virtual Home, available on our website. While there, be sure to enroll in free AIA- and NAHB-approved online training sessions. The topics mentioned in this article are explored in the following courses: