At the Forefront with Affordable “Standard Green”
Achieving efficient, super-tight homes for first-time buyers
When it comes to production green building, Utah’s Garbett Homes stands out for both its unique HERS-specific green marketing and the affordability of its standard green features.
The epiphany for Garbett came three years ago when its marketing analysis and projections told the company that first-time home-buyers were the niche that would help insulate it from downward pressure on the broader housing market. Garbett also decided that standard, money-saving green features would be the differentiating factor between itself and similarly-priced competitors.
“With first-time buyers, they’re coming out of rental units, and with rates where they are, they’re able to get into a brand new home with little or no money down for essentially the same monthly payment as rent,” says Rene Oehlerking, director of marketing at Garbett Homes.
“What’s really been a motivating factor for them are the lower utility bills. When the average monthly bill in the Salt Lake City region is around $250 to $300 for power and gas, we’re able to bring them into a home where they’re spending about $20 a month – that’s a car payment they’re saving each month right there.”
HERS Scores, the Power of “Deconstruction”
Garbett builds about 300 homes a year, most priced in its sweet spot of $150,000 to $250,000. It plans to have all of its homes come with an energy rating under HERS 40. A very potent marketing tool for Garbett has been its ‘deconstruct’ models where prospects are able to see the location and operation of efficient and sustainable products.
“Nothing is mocked up. We built the home and we stripped the walls, basically taking parts of the home and peeling them back so people can see the actual application. Everything in our deconstruct is a standard feature,” Oehlerking says.
“Our buyers’ interest is huge. It’s absolutely mind-blowing for them. They are drawn in when see how they get smaller utility bills through lower HERS scores, increased insulation, tight air sealing and other factors. We’re seeing them for the first time gravitating toward understanding what’s really in the home.”
At these HERS scores, Oehlerking notes, insulation “is critical, especially sealing.” With the deconstruct model, sealing applications become a forefront item, exposed as an important factor. Garbett uses Knauf Insulation’s EcoSeal™, a water-based elastomeric sealant that carries GREENGUARD for Children and SchoolsSM certification for low emissions and is designed for use with the full line of fiberglass products offered by Knauf Insulation.
BIBS in the Mix
EcoSeal, with the ability to penetrate gaps as small as 1/16”, is used on Garbett’s sill plates, top plates and cracks and gaps in sheathing, while fiberglass BIBS® applications are used with 2x6 construction. For Garbett, this solution and others like solar photovoltaic/thermal, geothermal and tankless hot water that are standard depending on the Garbett model, all come back to HERS and realizing that the lower the HERS score, the more environmentally-friendly the house will be. “And the less money you will spend on keeping the house running every month,” Oehlerking summarizes.
“What we like about EcoSeal is that it’s very green, it’s water-based and the application of it is green as well. It has some very nice properties that are better than spray foam. It’s a tighter seal and you can install it in areas where you can’t really use spray foam properly because of its expansion and lack of effectiveness in small areas,” Oehlerking says.
Before discovering EcoSeal, Garbett had been using open-cell spray foam for sealing and insulation. “It gave us a nice tight building envelope,” Oehlerking says, “but we found that when we combined it with blown-in fiberglass along with Knauf’s new EcoSeal, we could actually get improved R-value in our interior wall cavity. The result is standard R-44 insulation - that’s at $5,000 less than using the spray foam alone that gave us R-22 or R-23.”
Garbett homes also have features like drip irrigation, low-flow plumbing fixtures and double-pane insulated windows. “Our homes are priced pretty similarly to competing homes of the same size in the market, but what we’ve been able to do is essentially give our buyers a ‘Prius’ for the price of a Toyota ‘Corolla.’ What they get as a standard feature is a very tight home that uses less energy and allows them much smaller utility bills each month,” Oehlerking says.
“We understand the critical importance to Garbett Homes of getting the most bang for your buck with energy-efficient green solutions,” says Chris Brown, business development manager at Knauf Insulation. “Like other builders, they’ve been able to reduce costs and also add speed to their sealing and insulation versus previous methods. We have a direct effect on HERS, which is more and more a huge selling point with green-focused builders like Garbett.”
In their adaption of EcoSeal, Garbett Homes’ estimator initially discovered the product at Greenbuild, later testing it out and installing it in the deconstruct model. “He was very impressed and loved the ease of application. He bought a $3,000 sprayer and started doing applications himself and was also able to instruct our superintendants. It’s a small rig and it’s nearly as simple as spray-painting,” says Oehlerking.
“In comparison, he couldn’t install spray foam. And with spray foam, you have to all your subcontractors out of the house for the day and it’s a very big job. EcoSeal dries quickly and can be installed while other subcontractors are working at the same time.”
Garbett’s Oehlerking says the economics of green homes are a life-changer for their buyers. “Once you’ve driven a Prius,” he notes, “it’s pretty hard to go back from 60 miles per gallon to 20 miles per gallon. Our buyers are really going to define the market, and I think, change home building forever.”
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