DOE Challenge Home Spotlight in Utah—Q&A with Bruce Hanson

Posted by Macie Melendez on November 05, 2013
DOE Challenge Home Spotlight in Utah—Q&A with Bruce Hanson
The net zero energy home is loaded with solar panels to take advantage of Utahs weather.

Another proud recipient of a DOE Challenge Home Builder Award is Salt Lake City, Utah-based Garbett Homes. Their first Challenge Home, which they built in Herriman, Utah, won in the Production Builders category.

Their company averages between 18 and 22 employees who do construction, land acquisition and development, and office support. Garbett Homes currently builds 100% of their homes and apartments to an average HERS score of 34, and while this Challenge Home was their first venture into net zero, they are currently looking into building an entire 65-lot subdivision to that standard.

We wanted to know more about the award-winning home, so we spoke with Bruce Hanson, the energy director of the organization.

Q&A with Bruce Hanson

Home Energy: What was the biggest obstacle you faced when building your Challenge Home? 

Bruce Hanson: Deciding if the buying market would be willing to pay the additional retail to get certified.

HE: I read that this home is the first DOE Challenge Home to be certified in Utah and the first net-zero home in the state—that's two huge accomplishments.

BH: We were the first DOE Challenge Home, but not the first net zero. We were the first net zero as a production builder, under $250 per square foot. The previous net zero properties in the state were over $250 per square foot and we delivered this net zero at $150 per square foot.

HE: Was net zero and building a highly efficient home goals for your company from the beginning?

BH: When we started our Energy Program about 4 years ago, it was a vague dream, but not until about a year ago or so did we think it might be viable.

HE: Are there occupants in this home now? If so, how is the home performing?

BH: Buyers aren’t moving in until November 15, but it has been our sales office for the past three months. It has a lighter than usual load during nighttime hours but much higher loads during business hours. Currently it is producing more energy than is currently being used.

HE: Were there any systems used in the building of this new home that could be applied to retrofits on existing homes?

BH: It all depends on the extent of retro—if the retrofit is a major one, you could do 95% of the items. If it’s a minor remodel, maybe just an upgraded furnace.

HE: How many homes do you build per year?

BH: We anticipate 400 units for 2013 and 500 units for 2014. All of our units are Energy Star certified.

HE: What is one piece of advice you'd give to other builders taking on similar projects?

BH: Unless you have a personal belief and goal to build a more efficient home, don’t do it. The tighter you build your home, the more important it is to get everything right and working together. Just throwing a few items at the home can make the home perform worse. The home needs to be looked at as an entire machine and each component must work together, and be prepared to make mistakes and then correct those mistakes. It does cost more and sometimes much more, depending on home many mistakes need fixed. Study the hundreds of different ways to reach the score of zero and do what makes sense financially and for your market.

HE: What is your favorite room in your Challenge Home and why? 

BH: I am a building science geek. The entire house is open and very appealing, but my focus is always the envelope of the home and mechanical room so that would be my favorite area.

HE: What do you think is the most important thing builders need to focus on in the next 5 years for home performance to become more mainstream?

BH: We need to get the buying public to understand the difference home performance makes in home construction. When the buyers demand it, it will happen. If left up to the builder, it will drag on forever.


You can read the full case study on this Challenge Home here.

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