Thriving in a ZEN Landscape
Ask any builder around the country about top challenges and you are pretty likely to hear three things:
- Cost and availability of attractive lots;
- Finding and cultivating skilled tradespeople; and
- Creating high brand awareness with prospective homebuyers.
Denver-based production builder Thrive Home Builders (formerly New Town Builders) is delivering on all three counts, due in large part to their commitment to Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) building. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) case study on their 2016 Housing Innovation Award-winning Hyland Village ZERH home, and the words of their VP of Operations Bill Rectanus, shed some light on how, and why, ZERH building has been so successful for them.
Thrive was an early partner with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) ZERH program. It signed on to the program in 2012 and one year later, committed to certifying 100 percent of its homes to the specification. The company will mark the completion of more than 400 DOE Zero Energy Ready homes by year’s end. In addition, Thrive has pushed homes in several series all the way to zero, which it calls Zero Energy Now, or ZEN, this year hitting the additional mark of delivering over 125 ZEN homes to the Denver market in the past 5 years.
Thrive’s commitment to high performance, energy efficient home building has earned the company a DOE Housing Innovation Award every year since 2013. There is a lot that goes into a ZERH home, but an interesting feature in their Hyland Village community was the use of double wall construction with 2x4, 24” on center staggered studs with space for 9.5” of R-40 blown fiberglass. Despite this, and the many other unique features of delivering a ZERH home, Thrive says its DOE ZERH homes are only about 7 percent more expensive than a standard code-built home. The performance is great, but understanding how they did it is even more important.
How Thrive is Winning on 3 Tricky Issues:
- Cost and availability of lots: According to Gene Myers, Thrive CEO, their position as a Zero Energy Ready Home builder gives them a leg up, saying Thrive is viewed as a “forward-thinking, conscientious ‘builder of choice’ for land owners and municipalities.” Denver, where Thrive operates, is a very hot housing market with attractive lots in short supply. Rectanus adds that “the DOE and Energy Star labels go a long way in helping validate the story and put us at the head of the line for many A+ project opportunities.” Anything that can help secure better lots bears strong consideration.
- Finding and cultivating skilled tradespeople. Thrive knows that DOE ZERH construction takes skilled and engaged trades, so they have a unique approach to address this. “We have developed trade partner councils that bring trades together. This facilitates collaboration in the field, minimizing delays and frustration” says Rectanus. Ensuring trades have the skills needed is critical, but certainly your own employees need to be included as well. Manufacturers can help here, too, says Rectanus, stating “we work closely with manufacturers on training. We conduct trainings through these vendors on an as needed basis both with our internal staff as well as our trade partners and their teams.” Thrive is using partners to invest in people, and from the performance they are achieving, it’s paying off.
- Creating high brand awareness with prospective homebuyers. This is a frequent goal for builders, but with so much of marketing still relying on word-of-mouth referral, it can be tough. Building DOE ZERH and ZEN homes has been a huge boost for Thrive’s marketing. They do intensive survey work with their homeowner customers, getting their feedback at closing, move-in, mid-year and year end. "Homeowners have told us Zero Energy Ready homes were the primary reason for seeking out and buying a Thrive home,” Myers says. Buyers equate ZERH with a great home, and now, in the Denver market, they equate ZERH with Thrive. That is the kind of place most builders want to be.
Thrive is demonstrating that ZERH construction can be done cost affordably and delivers a lot of benefits that builders are after, and some that they may not have thought of.