When it comes to selling homes, McBride & Son Companies can’t afford to waste any time. As the largest builder in St. Louis and the state of Missouri, ranked 64th in the 2017 Builder 100 and with annual sales of 800 to 900 homes, the company often has its sales managers on the ground at a new community even before the first foundation has been dug. The sales team typically sets up shop in a sales trailer the size of a motor home with offices and meeting spaces.
Running a sales trailer on raw land, before the utilities have arrived, presents a challenge, says Jon Kelley, a project manager for McBride & Son. Yet getting power to that trailer is integral to the launch of a community.
The traditional way of powering the sales trailer — with a portable diesel generator — is noisy, dirty, and expensive. So when Chuck Justus, founder of local generator manufacturer Energy Tree, introduced McBride & Son to an alternative, the builder didn’t take much convincing. Energy Tree’s EverGreen 4 is a small-footprint, 20-kW portable generator that runs on propane instead of diesel, making it a cleaner option that can save thousands of dollars in fuel costs.
Those savings were the primary factor that led McBride & Son to switch from diesel, Kelley says. The EverGreen 4 costs about $350 less per week to run than diesel generators, he explains, because it uses propane. And with as many as nine generators running at any given time across all of the company’s projects, often for a month or two, the savings can make a significant impact on the builder’s bottom line.
The EverGreen 4 joins Kohler’s towable mobile generator line and smaller options from Ryobi in offering propane alternatives for jobsite power. Justus says he designed the EverGreen 4 with features that save time and money on the jobsite. With a footprint of roughly 4 feet by 4 feet, it’s smaller than most alternatives, making it easy to unload and place on site. And the units come with two removable, interchangeable power panels, so one side of the generator can be used to power a trailer while the other powers hand tools.
McBride & Son Companies, the largest builder in St. Louis and the state of Missouri, sells 800 to 900 homes a year, so its sales agents at new developments can’t waste time waiting for utility power to be available.[/caption]
Kelley says that feature came in handy at Keystone Ridge, a community the builder is developing in O’Fallon, Missouri, when workers came to build the deck and ADA-accessible ramp on the trailer. “They were able to plug their equipment right into it and not have to bring their own generators out, because there was power on site,” he says. As of mid-December 2017, Keystone’s 83 lots had conduit in place but were waiting on power and gas.
Propane generators also run quieter and cleaner than diesel generators, which offers practical benefits on a project. “We don’t want our customers seeing our sales managers going out there in their suit and tie or a nice-looking outfit to fire up a diesel generator that blows a big cloud of black smoke all over them,” Kelley says. “There are not as many problems.”
“These [propane generators] are quiet enough that we don’t get the cops called on us for running them all night.”
Switching to propane can also help keep the neighbors happy, Kelley says. “Oftentimes we back up to other neighborhoods and other residences are right behind us. These are quiet enough that we don’t get the cops called on us for running them all night.” In fact, Kelley often keeps the units running 24 hours a day. Although that offsets some of the savings they provide, the continuous power helps keep the trailer and portable toilet units from freezing in frigid conditions.
Heat and power
McBride & Son has completely switched from diesel to propane generators year-round. However, utilizing propane is especially convenient in the freezing winter weather, when the builder employs propane temporary heat in free-standing and forced-air units for drywall and painting. A single propane company can typically provide the right-sized propane tanks for each application.
Brooks Kelly, an account manager at propane provider Ferrellgas, frequently provides propane to McBride & Son for generator and temporary heat applications. In addition to construction sites, he says, disaster recovery and large events are examples of other instances for which propane can provide clean, affordable heat and power. He met Justus when the two were providing propane heat and power for a large Mardi Gras event in downtown St. Louis.
At Keystone Ridge, Kelley’s sales team held its grand opening in mid-January 2018. The community has two sections, the Estates at Keystone Ridge, which has 72 home sites each on one-fifth of an acre with homes ranging from 1,800 to about 3,000 square feet, and the Reserves at Keystone Ridge, which has larger sites along a large, scenic ridge that overlooks the surrounding developed area.
Electric service wasn’t ready in time for the grand opening that welcomed prospective buyers. But with a propane generator providing power, the sales team wasted no time generating sales.