Production Home Builder Targets Green Building to Buyer Understanding

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Production Home Builder Targets Green Building to Buyer Understanding

Photo via Pardee Homes.

In some markets, local or state codes are driving adoption of high performance home standards, but some builders are striving to stay ahead of the curve.

Offering a home that exceeds the minimum standard, no matter how stringent that might be, is one way a builder a can differentiate itself in a competitive marketplace.

TRI Pointe Group designs, constructs and sells premium homes through its portfolio of six quality brands across eight states, which includes Maracay Homes in Arizona; Pardee Homes in California and Nevada; Quadrant Homes in Washington; Trendmaker Homes in Texas; TRI Pointe Homes in California and Colorado; and Winchester Homes in Maryland and Virginia.

Through its Living Smart program, launched in 1998, TRI Pointe researches and implements the latest technologies in sustainable building practices.

In an exclusive interview the, Matt Sauls, vice president, marketing and product development at Pardee Homes for the Greater Los Angeles

Matt Sauls, Pardee Homes

area market, reviewed the company's approach to green building and finding the value in that for home buyers

PGH:Tell us about the Living Smart program.

MS:It's ingrained in our culture at Pardee, we committed to green building earlier than most other builders and it's still an evolving story. It's rolled out to the other companies in the TRI Pointe group, and now it's the way we think about green building.

The Living Smart philosophy is made up of four components:

No. 1 is Health Smart, a category that talks about fostering healthy living and cleaner air. We have low formaldehyde attic insulation, Low VOC interior paints; we may have an optional system for air filtration, a central vacuum, anything that can help improve air quality.

No. 2 is Energy Smart, which includes any technology that reduces energy use and helps save money on utility bills. Everything was fluorescent lights, but our electrical partners are telling us the price of LEDs have fallen so much it's about $5 to $10 more per house, so we're shifting to LEDs. We also use radiant roof barrier Low E glass in the windows, programmable thermostats, those are elements of our core standards, and then we add other elements depending on the price range.

No. 3 is Earth Smart, which includes, any material that comes from recycled or sustainable sources.

No. 4 is Water Smart, which includes any features or landscape design elements that help conserve water usage.

Within those components, we have things that may be standard or offered as options varying by community as company division, as well as different parts of the country. For instance, in Seattle the homes may have the same needs for a radiant roof barrier as we do in Arizona or Nevada. Our teams have flexibility to work within those parameters for the local market.

The attic in the model at Pardee's Flagstone community is Beaumont, California, displays some of the green features that are normally hidden from view.

PGH: How has the California Title 24 driven your building practices?

MS:We focus on the Title 24 requirements, and the state code in general is constantly pushing us to build a better house. We always exceed California code. We don't always build to Energy Star standards but we do use Energy Star appliances quite a bit.

PGH: What do you differently to meet the Title 24 requirements?

MS: We have third party raters that run Title 24 compliance summaries for us, based on multiple scenarios of how can we meet the codes. We look at SEER ratings, R-Values, window glazing, HVAC systems, all of those different components. Usually there are some balancing efforts to get you past code, and we chose a scenario that got us to 2.4 percent over Title 24 code on one plan in one project for example.

PGH: How have your trade partners responded to the higher building standards?

MS: Our contractors have to be constantly learning to meet the moving targets. We have a lot of building going on in our region, so we quickly learn how to do it in a more efficient fashion. We have learned the best way to lay out an HVAC system because we've done air flow testing to make it the most efficient.

In Southern California, like other high volume areas, we have trades that are always on the cusp of the new direction the code is going.

PGH: How much does higher performance translate to higher costs?

Pardee creates displays in the model homes to help buyers understand some of the hidden green building features, and the impact on the cost of ownership.

MS: As a production builder, we're in a different market. A customer builder selling one home at a time can squeeze in an extra $3,000 to $5,000 in costs. It's harder for production builders because we're selling a home next to another one that 's nominally the same footage and the same lot size at nominally the same price. Buyers have a lot of compare to get the most for their money. We've learned over the years there are some things people will pay for, and some things they won't.

PGH: What's your approach on solar power?

MS: We have committed to get the house ready for solar, we make sure the roof layout is setup properly the orientation is right, and about 93 percent of our buyers go ahead and opt for a solar lease. In some markets the solar lease is standard and buyers can opt out. In California there are rebates for doing it during new construction rather than retrofitting, so even if they decided to do it later they don't get the same deal.

Buyers can lock in a 20-year lease, and from day one their energy bills are lower and they're not high anyway because they have an efficient house. But now they have solar to offset that.

PGH:How do customers respond to some of the green features in the home?

MS: We focus on where we exceed code, and put in things we think people will find value in. A good example of that in our climate is the radiant roof barrier, it's like a lot of the technologies that go on behind the scenes and the buyer can never touch it or see it. They just know when they move in the house feels cool most of the time and they don't have to turn on the AC as much. But, they can't know that until they move in.

We can take someone out on site and show them the way we insulate a house, show them the way the radiant roof barrier looks, those are things they can see and it makes sense.

A tankless water heater, we think we get value for that all day long, buyers understand that. Other things are harder to get value for, but they tell an overall story about who we are as a builder and what we goes into the thought process of their home.

Even though we may build 500 homes in a region, it's one family that's buying that house. They don't care that you built 499 other homes; they want to know their home was thought through and built with care. That's the way we try to approach things, even at a higher volume than a custom builder.

Read more about building green homes.

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Cost of Ownership, Energy Audits, Energy Star, Going Green, Healthy Homes, Heating & Cooling, Home Design & Plans, Indoor Air Quality, Insulation, Lighting, Paint | Low VOC and No VOC, Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Rebates / Tax Credits, Solar Power, Sustainable Communities, Tankless Water Heaters, Thermal Envelope, Water Saving Devices, Windows

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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