When Mark Bethel, president of Denver-based builder and developer Arcadia Properties, launched his Byers Place project in Denver during the recession, he knew he needed to take a different tack. His target demographic, 30-something couples, could no longer afford the $900,000-plus homes they had purchased prior to the downturn.
Byers Place, which consists of 19 single-family detached homes, targets those same customers with much smaller, more energy-efficient designs: still well appointed, but priced in the mid-$600,000s with a 1,000- to 1,100-square-foot footprint. And the market has responded well both to the price point and the lower utility bills, Bethel says.
“It’s been very successful for us because it’s smaller and it’s energy-efficient,” he says.
Bethel’s energy-saving strategy for the Energy Star–rated homes utilized an upgraded window package and thermal envelope, as well as high-efficiency natural gas appliances for space heating, water heating, and cooking.
The Byers Place homes were built with high-end kitchen appliances, including gas stoves. “I’ve never in 21 years installed an electric range,” he says. “For me, if it isn’t gas, we haven’t done it.”
“The big story here is the price of natural gas compared with electric,” Bethel says. “In Denver, gas is very inexpensive right now.” Byers Place’s gas appliances cost less to operate than electric alternatives, he says. “We have the ability now to show potential customers the energy bills from some of the first homes, and they’re invariably impressed with the small size of the bill.”
Bethel’s story is far from unique. A report this year from the American Gas Association found that homeowners who use natural gas appliances for heating, water heating, cooking, and clothes-drying spend an average of $518 less per year than those who use electricity for those same appliances. Natural gas is used in more than 71 million U.S. households and businesses, serving more than 40 percent of the direct energy needs of the country’s homes and buildings.
Byers Place uses natural gas for space heating, water heating, and cooking. Homeowners who use natural gas for those applications, as well as for clothes-drying, may spend hundreds of dollars less per year than those who use electricity.
Direct use refers to natural gas consumed directly in appliances for heating and cooling, water heating, cooking, and clothes-drying. Direct use of natural gas is more efficient than consuming it indirectly, via electricity generated with natural gas, because it avoids the loss of usable energy that results from electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. The energy lost amounts to nearly half the energy used in homes and commercial businesses, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The direct use of natural gas also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. AGA’s analysis found that households with natural gas versus all-electric appliances produce 37 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions.
With such a large market for natural gas–fueled appliances, manufacturers are making big investments in maximizing the efficiency and performance of their gas appliances. At the 2013 International Builders’ Show, heating equipment manufacturer Lennox will be displaying two products that show off the latest technological advances, the SLP98V variable capacity furnace and the icomfort Wi-Fi touchscreen thermostat.
At 98 percent efficiency, the SLP98V is one of the latest generation of gas furnaces. Not only does it extract 98 percent of the thermal value of gas — the peak efficiency for oil furnaces, by comparison, is around 87 percent — the latest furnaces have modulating gas valves and variable-speed blowers that deliver the exact amount of heat a home needs, right when it needs it.
“It’s like a gas stove, where you can get high heat versus medium or low heat,” says Quan Nguyen, Lennox’s director of product management covering heating products. “Depending on whether it’s a brisk day or a below-freezing day, it can adjust to deliver the amount of heat that correlates to the amount of heat you’re losing in your home.”
Today’s gas furnaces are also available with high-tech communicating features, such as Lennox’s icomfort Wi-Fi, that allow homeowners to set their thermostat from a computer or smartphone or even alert the customer when maintenance is needed, similar to a “check engine” light in a car.
Lennox’s SLP98V will be among a number of energy-saving, high-performance gas-fueled products on display at the American Natural Gas & Propane Industries Exhibit at the 2013 International Builders’ Show, Jan. 22–24 in Las Vegas. This is your chance to meet face-to-face with suppliers of the latest equipment that boosts the comfort of your homes while lowering your customer’s energy bills. Visitors to the booth can enter to win a Fire Magic Aurora A540 gas grill on the third day of the show. Be sure to stop by Booth C2614.