Kiere DeGrandchamp has a pretty lofty goal: to build sustainable homes that average Americans can afford. The Pennsylvania builder has spent nearly the past decade learning the science behind energy-efficient construction and how to build homes that produce their own energy while maintaining a price point that falls in line with the rest of the neighborhood.
“Anybody can take a million dollars and put it into a regular-size house and make it net zero. But can you do it so that you, me, and the next-door neighbor can afford it?” he asks. “I can’t be building in the same neighborhood with [another builder] and start off $300,000 higher on the same exact square footage.”
DeGrandchamp founded Gettysburg, Pa.–based High Performance Homes (HPH) in April 2014 with Kevin Gombeski, a general contractor, and Richard Klein, a local developer. DeGrandchamp met Klein at a golf outing, and at the time, Klein was looking to build a home on the Chesapeake Bay and was interested in the net zero energy concept. However, instead of just building one personal home, Klein propositioned DeGrandchamp to start his own company and build zero energy ready homes at Klein’s development, The Links at Gettysburg.
Zero energy ready homes are designed as a “just add solar” building method, where homeowners can add solar to a pre-wired, well-insulated home and achieve zero-dollar energy bills. The “ready” concept takes the pressure off builders to include solar in their homes. However, HPH partnered with Dow Chemical Co. to include the Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles on every home in The Links. With the solar shingles, HPH’s homes—even at 6,000 square feet—can achieve zero energy bills depending on a homeowner’s energy use.
“We discussed it as a possibility, and then we went off and running. He gave us a lot to start the model on, and we built the model with investor money,” DeGrandchamp says of Klein’s Gettysburg community.
The Links features a golf course; restaurant; on-site fitness center with a sauna, pool, and hot tub; walking trails; two clubhouses; and tennis, bocce ball, and basketball courts. Keystone Custom Homes and Wormald Homes also are building in the 450-lot community, but HPH is the only one currently building to the DOE’s zero energy ready program.
The first home HPH built, a 6,800-square-feet zero energy ready dwelling with a HERS Index score of 23, won a 2015 DOE Housing Innovation Award in the production category. The DOE cited the home’s energy-efficient products such as the Dow Solar Shingles, 24-inch-thick R-24 SIPs, Energy Star-certified windows, and R-49 closed-cell spray-foam roof insulation.
Additional technology includes an energy recovery ventilator that, unlike a heat recovery ventilator, also removes moisture at high humidity levels; an air cleaning system with MERV 14 filter and UV cleaner that removes 99.7% of contaminants; and a geothermal ground-source heat pump for heating and cooling that also uses a desuperheater to preheat the water tank. It all comes together in a home energy management system that tracks the energy the home consumes and creates.
Smart features in the home include a C02 sensor in the garage that expels the chemical from a car before it reaches the house door and a motion sensor in the bathroom that recycles the water in the pipes with hot water when someone enters the room so users don’t have to run water for it to reach optimum temperature.
“It realizes you may need hot water so it dumps the water and brings it back up if the temperature isn’t met,” DeGrandchamp says. “That way you don’t have to turn on the shower and let it run and run and run. It literally saves 300 to 400 gallons a year.”
Starting at $420,000, HPH’s homes are approximately 7% more expensive than the other homes at The Links, but with a green addendum, their market value is higher, DeGrandchamp says. And once federal energy tax credits and energy bills are accounted for, HPH homes are comparable to the others, he adds.
The First Time Around
DeGrandchamp first developed this high-performance expertise in 2011 in Maryland as vice president of construction for the now-defunct Nexus Energy Homes. Its projects were similar to HPH’s homes, featuring geothermal heat pumps, SIPs, solar shingles, and energy management systems, and buyer interest was high. However, according to DeGrandchamp, the company was underfunded and grew too quickly. After two years the 10-person company folded, leaving several homes unfinished and many contractors unpaid, according to lawsuits against the firm’s partners that total approximately $180,000.
From this difficult lesson, DeGrandchamp learned not to get ahead of himself. This time, he’s being cautious—building only a few houses at a time. So far, he has sold five homes at The Links and plans to sell 300 more over the next several years. He intends to build at a rate of 10 to 20 homes a year in The Links as well as custom homes throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, where energy-conscious buyers are “ripe and ready for this type of product,” DeGrandchamp says.
To keep sales up with that building pace, he is doing what he can to get his local officials and the public on board with higher building standards. His main priority is to convince Congress to continue the existing tax credits that act as financial incentives for home buyers to buy green homes, which President Barack Obama extended at the end of 2014 but are set to expire again at the end of this year.
“If they expire, people will be less likely to [buy higher performing homes] because it does cost more money to build a home like this,” he says.
His product is ahead of the market in terms of building codes, achieving standards other states have set for 2020 or 2030. By the time others catch up to what he’s producing now, DeGrandchamp likely will be building to the standards set for 2050—one step ahead.