Sometimes being green and energy-efficient isn’t about just being green and energy-efficient.
Take high-end homebuilder Scott Frankel of Frankel Building Group in Houston. His company is selling $800,000-plus homes in a development called ParkGate Reserve in The Woodlands. All the homes are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Not only are all the homes built to high green standards, every home comes with a Crestron home control system, with operation via an in-wall iPad dock.
The basic Crestron systems include Crestron thermostats, three zones of lighting control and a security system. Homeowners can opt to upgrade to include audio/video distribution and other features. Electronics installation firm Premier Technology Group, also of Houston, wires each home for a minimum of one surround-sound system and eight audio zones, including control wiring to eight audio keypads.
The home control system itself helps homeowners achieve better efficiency, Frankel says. “It’s fun, it’s neat. It’s cool. I absolutely think [these systems] help sell our homes as green.”
The basic home control package, using a Crestron AP2 processor, comes with each house and is valued at around $10,000, says Eric Herleth of Premier Technology Group.
Frankel doesn’t have to include a home control system, of course. But he’s looking to set his homes apart from other builders.
The Big Differentiator
Frankel could easily differentiate his homes by just building green. Even some production builders are building green to help set themselves apart in a tough new construction market that must compete against a glut of discounted and distressed home prices. “It’s a really neat time to build houses. A lot of builders are on the sidelines waiting, but we’re busier than ever,” Frankel says. “LEED allows me to differentiate from my competitors. I’ve been building LEED homes for 13 months, and I’m never going back.”
But to Frankel, building a green home is far more than just being “green.” “The key goal is to build a home that’s sustainable and lasts a long time. We’re trying to build houses that will outlive me, and I’m 30,” he says. “Everything we do is better than it once was. The finish is better than it was. As we’ve evolved as a company we’ve come up with more efficient, better and healthy ways to both build and live. We pull out our specifications and show them how they’re living is better, how their house can last.
“Once you establish the fact you have a product that has no strikes against it, having a house that’s green or efficient or has a home automation package they don’t have to add later is a huge differentiator,” he adds. “These are ways to show that we’re different and forward thinking and thinking of your future. … I think it has less to do with green and more to do with possibilities for the future. With all the things out there, with someone buying a house, they can get a [home control] system and they can learn to use it in a day.”
The cool and sexy iPad interface certainly helps. “Most people are intrigued by the iPad controlling home functions. Then they want to see what else can it do,” says Herleth.
The iPad doesn’t say “energy management” system on its intro screen, though. It says “Frankel Home Control.” And there’s a reason for that.
“It is an energy management and control system, but from marketing standpoint, the builder did not want to label it that because it’s not just about energy management,” Herleth explains.
Also, energy management in Houston is not considered a big deal. The metropolis an energy capital, with cheaper gas prices and low electricity rates. Being green and energy efficient is not at the top of many home buyer’s lists. So instead of offering energy-efficiency as an option, it makes sense to build it into a premium package.
“We’re saying you don’t have to spend 10 percent of your budget on green to have a green home. We say to them it’s free because you deserve it,” says Frankel.
“Other builders are saying you can buy this for xxx, but with Frankel it’s just there,” says Herleth. “We found from our business. You can’t go through and offer everything as an option or adder. You just put it in. [In this case, the energy management] is part of the control and lighting system.
Herleth says a newer model in ParkGate Reserve will feature a Powerhouse Dynamics eMonitor energy monitoring system, which can be viewed through the iPad and Crestron display. Frankel says it might be offered as part of the package. When the model is open Frankel and Herleth will get a sense of how homeowners interact with such a system and whether it’s of value to them.
“I think once people see it, they will want to use it,” says Herleth. But integration between energy monitors and control systems in the future will be key. He adds that we “can’t make it difficult on the consumer, it has to be mindless.”