Training Case Study: The Propane Energy Pod at Work

A Pennsylvania builder finds success with a Pod suite of propane applications.

The rolling terrain and large home sites at Highspire, a 57-unit single-family community in Glenmoore, Pa., just west of Philadelphia, harken back to a time when developers and builders provided comfortable breathing room between houses to create an authentic neighborhood feel.

But that's where the old-school comparisons end. Rouse/Chamberlin Homes, which took over the project midstream from another developer/builder amid the current housing recession, has dedicated its efforts at Highspire to deliver certified levels of superior energy performance and resource efficiency.

A critical element of those efforts is the use of propane for the major energy-using systems and products in the 31 homes Rouse/Chamberlin is building to complete Highspire's master plan.

Specifically, propane is the energy source for high-efficiency furnaces and water heaters as standard equipment, with homebuyers often opting to add sealed combustion, direct-vent fireplaces and gas stoves to the mix. Rouse/Chamberlin also provides a propane supply line to the laundry room for a gas dryer.

Those five applications combine to form the Propane Energy Pod, a comprehensive approach to specifying home energy that effectively and often significantly reduces energy use, ongoing costs for homeowners, and greenhouse gas emissions.

At Highspire, Rouse/Chamberlin Homes is leveraging the Propane Energy Pod, among other green building practices and products, to distinguish itself in a highly competitive housing market. The builder buries a 500-gallon propane tank at each home site to supply all the Pod applications; the tank can be serviced from the street without requiring the homeowners to be present, a convenience they appreciate.

The strategy is working. Since Highspires opened in late 2010, the builder has enjoyed double-digit sales of homes priced from the low $300s, and many homeowners are selecting optional fireplaces and propane-powered cooking appliances on top of the base sales price of their home. "I'd say 80 percent of our buyers so far have opted for the gas range/oven," says Ed Hauck, the builder's director of purchasing, in large part because of the burners' better heat control and the oven's moisture retention compared to electric units.

Hauck also says that homeowners like the indoor comfort that comes from high-efficiency space and water heating—the former with an AFUE rating of 90, among the highest available, to combat the area's harsh winter weather. Propane furnaces heat air about 25 degrees hotter than electric heat pumps while emitting 65 percent fewer greenhouse gases than electric units.

Of course, the appliances and systems in a Propane Energy Pod home don't act in isolation. Rouse/Chamberlin and other energy-conscious builders also build airtight and well-insulated envelopes, refreshed by controlled ventilation, that enable the high-efficiency equipment to perform at optimal levels.

In fact, Rouse/Chamberlin achieves a home energy rating system (HERS) index of 65 for its homes at Highspire, meaning they are 35 percent more energy efficient than those built to the 2006 IEEC minimum.

"The air leakage in these homes is equivalent to about a 1-foot-square opening," says Casey King, builder services manager for E.I.C. Comfort Home, a third-party energy consultant based in Lancaster, Pa. "That's really efficient and a testament to this builder's efforts."

Follow these links to learn more about the Propane Energy Pod—and to see how a model Pod home stacks up against a standard home built in your area.

In addition, check back in the fall to take the online training course devoted to the Propane Energy Pod.

Field Report: The Propane Energy Pod at Work
How to Maximize Propane Tax Incentives
Case Study: Off-Grid Home Relies on Propane Heating Systems


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