Top high-performance builders share strategies
Scott Sanders talks about BrightLeaf's high-performance building approach. Photo by Steve Arel
ATLANTA – They didn’t invent energy efficiency. They’re not pioneers of green-building techniques.
What the builders of some of the nation’s best high-performance single- and multifamily homes will tell you is that they approach their craft with a simple goal in mind: Build the best home possible for their customers.
“We’re just paying attention to details,” said Luis Imery of Imery Group.
Six winners of the Department of Energy’s 2017 Housing Innovation Awards, including Imery, offered snapshots of their winning projects as part of a fast-paced, innovative approach called pecha kucha during the recent annual Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) High Performance Home Summit.
Pecha kucha is a Japanese term for the sound of conversation. Over time, it’s morphed into a style of presenting, where the basic premise is to convey a message or get a point across quickly.
Because builders are so passionate about the work they do, they could speak for hours about how they develop an idea into a sustainable standout, said Alex Glenn, building science trainer for Advanced Energy and the pecha kucha facilitator. To prevent that, the format demanded brevity from the presenters, with slides in their presentations (which were limited to 20) changing every 20 seconds – regardless of whether they were ready.
The approach forced presenting builders to get right to how they do what they do successfully.
Scott Sanders of BrightLeaf Homes opened the flurry of presentation saying that while buyers can make choices on the types of designs and floor plans they want, they have no high-performance options when going with BrightLeaf.
“It’s non-negotiable,” Sanders said.
BrightLeaf’s sales team focuses on selling an experience, not a product. High-performance techniques and equipment, such as a solar array, simply are part of the construction process – the benefits of which are part of the package.
“It’s easier to sell experience than a product,” Sanders said. Through brand marketing, “the customers know what they get.”
Imery struggled for several years to sell high-performance structures, even considering at one point bailing on the approach. Because he believed so much in the value, he stuck to it, studying building science and becoming a HERS rater.
Eventually, Imery landed customers seeking custom homes. However, he has since changed the way he communicates high-performance, touting its value but linking what can be achieved based on a buyer’s budget – not on what the builder believes should be included in the project.
Charis Homes, which built Ohio’s first zero-energy-ready home, holds invitation-only seminars twice a year for leading prospects to talk about the high-performance homes it builds. The company rents space in a local hotel, lays out food and drinks and brings in past buyers willing to talk about their experience and the benefit of their homes.
Charis owner Glenna Wilson, whose background prior to joining the construction field was sales and marketing, purposely has no prior meeting with those willing to speak, so that the message is unfiltered and more legitimate.
“We don’t know what they’re going to say,” she said.
Health E Community Enterprises of Virginia focuses on simplicity of construction, incorporating advanced framing techniques, air sealing, solar array orientation and system shading. After that, additional value can be eyed through the installation of certain energy-efficient products and approaches, such as increasing attic insulation.
“We’re building the homes of the future today,” Health E owner Jay Epstein said.
Engineering sets the tone for Addison Homes. Extensive pre-construction efforts examine all aspects of a project – from site orientation to available renewable resources – to determine what high-performance Addison Homes will work and which ones won’t.
Critical to making the project come together as envisioned is having a team of contractors and sub-contractors that spend time learning and buying into high-performance, said Todd Usher, president of Addison Homes in South Carolina.
“They’re our biggest fans,” he said.
To help those in the field, including its sales representatives, connect with what’s important to customers, Thrive Homes developed an innovation center at its Denver headquarters to educate its staff – and even fellow builders who want insight – on how high-performance is accomplished.
“You need to hammer it home to your sales staff,” said Stephen Myers, Thrive’s vice president of process control. “Find people who are passionate about what you do.”
The ultimate goal, he said, is to make high-performance standard, not an option.