One of the best parts of working with so many North American home builders is the front row seat I have to cutting-edge trends in construction and customer delight. Few builders, however, have shown as much innovative thinking as Meritage Homes (NYSE: MTH), which recently became the first builder to offer affordable houses that use 70 percent to 80 percent less energy than traditionally built homes. If you harbor any doubts about the fiscal wisdom of investing in “green” construction, consider this: These eco-friendly homes have Meritage outselling its competitors 3-to-1 amid the worst housing recession in history.
Truly, necessity is the mother of invention, and the need for energy-saving homes is prompting a permanent, high-tech shift in the way houses are being built. Fortunately, these green technologies are not only boosting home sales, they’re also driving customer delight. Here’s how:
One of the hallmark construction techniques that Meritage and some other green builders are offering is spray foam insulation. Not only is it better at insulating against energy transfer, it is also a great way to improve soundproofing. While most builders are familiar with this technology, Meritage has taken it a step further by providing 9-inch staggered stud wall construction that is then filled with foam. This wall thickness is unprecedented for large-scale production builders and most custom builders. But the real secret to the soundproofing experience is that the studs facing the outside only touch the inside wall at a few places. This means that sound vibrations being sent through the studs that support the drywall are greatly reduced. Even houses built this way on busy streets are almost silent inside.
Not surprisingly, customers are raving about this level of sound insulation, and as more home buyers are exposed to this game-changing technology, it will be increasingly difficult for builders to sell traditionally framed and insulated houses.
Another standard feature among today’s green builders is solar systems. But some builders have discovered that solar technology delivers benefits well beyond the anticipated energy savings. To capture even more of the sun’s energy, some solar systems have integrated the home’s air-exchange systems beneath the solar panels. The unexpected benefit of this design is that it generates negatively charged ions, which can play a significant role in air quality.
Many people are familiar with air purifiers that claim to send out negatively charged ions into a room, where they attract positively charged particles that are then drawn out of the air. This method of air purification is now being validated by solar systems that introduce negatively charged ions into the air via a home’s air exchange system. PVT Solar, a provider of such solar systems, is delivering air purification so efficient that air filters need to be changed only once every three years (although PVT recommends changing the filter annually to be safe). This is a “wow” feature that’s delighting homeowners fortunate enough to get this technology in their houses.
You can view high-definition videos of actual homes using these new building techniques at www.builderonline.com/buildertv.aspx or www.avidbuilder.com. But to understand how important these cutting-edge construction methods are to the future of home building, it helps to look back more than a century. By the early 1900s, indoor plumbing—a technological innovation for its time—had become a “wow” feature in all new-home construction. Existing homes with outdoor plumbing became difficult to sell. It’s not hard to make comparisons between indoor plumbing at the turn of the 20th century and green construction today.
Dr. Jack ReVelle, Ph.D., a world-class quality guru and author of 25 books on the subject, taught me that the most successful entrepreneurs seize the day when technological “wows” emerge. For home builders, it’s increasingly apparent that that day is today.