Setting a New Standard. Garbett Homes recently completed the first Net-Zero production home in Utah, which registers a HERS score of negative 1. Photo Credit: Garbett Homes

In a market crowded with larger builders, Garbett Homes has developed a three-prong approach that enabled it to survive and thrive through the downturn and continue to find success as the market rebounds.

Garbett Homes opened for business in 1988 building rental homes and apartments. A generation later, rentals have emerged again as a safe haven for this Salt Lake City-based builder.Last year, the firm closed 125 for-sale homes and 175 for-rent houses. In 2013, for-rent houses are projected to account for 250 of the builder’s 400 closings. Of the 174 units Garbett is building at its Terrameer community in Herriman, Utah, 95 will be single-family detached rentals. The company also is constructing attached rentals in three other communities.

It’s not like Garbett Homes is moving away from the for-sale market, however. Its president and CEO Bryson Garbett explains that when his company was planning these communities, “there was virtually no [bank] loans available for for-sale construction.” In fact, only recently have some of Utah’s smaller banks gotten into this sector, he says.

One of its neighborhoods, where Garbett Homes is building 175 townhouses, is the first for-rent solar community in Utah, and another illustration of this builder’s longstanding commitment to energy-efficient construction, which has become Garbett Homes’ competitive calling card in a market where it goes head-to-head with such national and regional production builders as Richmond American, D.R. Horton, and David Weekley Homes, as well as local market leader Ivory Homes.

Garbett Homes once ran billboard advertising that showed a female homeowner with the tagline “My power bill is $5 a month. What’s yours?” Garbett believes “energy efficiency” is what comes to mind when buyers think of about his company’s products. “We’ve been pushing this for the last five years, and it’s a way for us to stand out from other production builders.” And the key to its credibility is solar, which is a standard feature.

Garbett builds solar-powered homes, townhouses, and apartments that score in the 30s on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS). On August 1, it completed a 4,335-square-foot house in the Rosecrest community of Herriman that is the first net-zero house in U.S. to achieve a HERS score of negative 1 in Climate Zone 5. That means the home is 101 percent more energy efficient than a brand-new code-built home in Utah. The first net-zero production home in Utah, the home also is the first to earn the Department of Energy’s Challenge Home certification.

The house is powered by a 10.29-kilowatt solar system provided by Vivant Solar, which also installed a home automation and energy management system that allows owners to monitor and control their energy consumption.

Modern Design That Sells Garbett Homes’ net-zero house has an unusual exterior design developed by the California-based architect KTGY. Garbett says his company has cultivated a reputation among buyers and realtors for design “that’s different, modern, and uses a lot of color.”

Some design ideas have their genesis in Mexico, where Garbett has built single-family dwellings in Querétaro for upper-middle-class buyers. (Garbett Homes also builds schools and offers high school scholarships in Mexico through its Escalera Foundation, which it started 16 years ago.)

“We put a picture of our houses [at Querétaro] on our website, and not a week went by when someone in Utah didn’t call us saying they wanted that design.” Five years ago, Garbett started building houses like those in Mexico at Daybreak, the massive sustainable master-planned community in South Jordan, Utah. “And we haven’t had one of those houses sit [unsold],” says Garbett.

So far, Garbett has spurned offers from builders seeking to buy his family-owned business because “we still have a ways to go before we get out.”

Domestically, Garbett­ says his company—which also builds in Wyoming and Idaho—is looking for expansion opportunities in markets where energy bills are high. He also expects his firm to engage more in-town infill projects, as well as single-family detached homes for move-up buyers, “which is something new for us.”

Garbett Homes

Headquarters          Salt Lake City, Utah

Founded                1988

2012 Closings         300

Home prices           $180,000s to $400,000s

Markets served       Greater Salt Lake City primarily; also building in Wyoming and Idaho

Successl Strategy    Rentals, energy efficiency, modern design

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Salt Lake City, UT.