Bruce Pasquarella has constructed about 40 custom homes in six of the seven master-planned luxury communities that make up The Cliffs in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
He’s noticed that the communities have different attractions. In the three communities in the “Lakes” region by Lake Keowee in Upstate South Carolina, buyers might be interested in recreation on the lake and sports at nearby Clemson University. In the three communities in the “Mountain” region north of Greenville, South Carolina, they’re attracted to the beauty of the mountains and the amenities of nearby Greenville and Hendersonville.
But while the attractions may be different, the target customer for the high-end homes he builds share much in common, says Pasquarella, president of American Eagle Builders, an independent franchise of Arthur Rutenberg Homes based in Greer, South Carolina. They’re looking for high-end amenities, large tracts of land, custom golf courses, and mountain rustic types of architecture.
The buyers share one additional preference in common, says Richard Hubble, who directs real estate operations for The Cliffs: “In those higher-end custom homes, it’s kind of a standard that they don’t want all of their appliances to be electric.”
So while the communities in the Lakes region have access to natural gas, and the Mountain communities don’t, the distinction doesn’t make a difference in the design of the homes. The Mountain communities offer the same gas amenities simply by turning to propane instead. “They want gas stoves and gas logs and some gas appliances, so it’s kind of a given that every house ends up getting propane put in when the house is built,” Hubble says.
On-demand water heating
Among the desired propane amenities in The Cliffs, water heating leads the way, says Chris Hamblen, general manager and COO of Fairview Builders in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. He builds six to 10 custom homes a year, nearly all in The Cliffs.
“Most folks want to go with a tankless water heater,” Hamblen says. “It’s on-demand, so it’s a convenience factor.” The builder typically installs two units with a recirculation pump to get hot water to the faucet quickly. “There aren’t a lot of families here, so they don’t necessarily need unlimited quantities. They just want it quickly.”
Gas Cooking is also nearly a given, Hamblen says. “A lot of people cook, so they like having five- to eight-burner gas ranges. Induction [electric] cooking is kind of a novelty, but most people aren’t used to cooking that way, and it’s got all kinds of inherent problems.”
Outdoors, about two-thirds of buyers will just buy an inexpensive portable grill, though Hamblen typically installs a propane line to the grill so homeowners won’t have to haul a tank around. But for buyers who want a full outdoor kitchen, they’ll frequently opt for a top-of-the-line outdoor grill to accompany sinks, cabinetry, and more. Almost every home will also include a fire pit, but with a similar split: about 75 percent of buyers just want a big, outdoorsy fire pit with a gas log, while the rest opt for a fancier, architectural look with lava rocks.
Propane Standby Generators attract nearly universal interest, and Hamblen says about half of his customers ultimately choose to install one. He includes the generator in his scope of work so that he can get a yes or no response right from the start.
“In our region, the thing that can take the power down is ice accumulation,” Hamblen says. “For a second or third home, if the owners aren’t there, they don’t want to come back to spoiled or rotten things or water leaks.” The backup protection is particularly vital for plumbing systems that are digitally monitored and send an alarm if there’s a leak. But simply having the basics around the home protected is attractive, too.
“Your refrigerator and then basic lighting is important, especially if folks don’t want to trip and fall,” Hamblen says. “And then entertainment. If you’re in a snowstorm, a lot of people just want their TV to work.”
A vital energy source
In many of its homes, American Eagle Builders uses the five key propane amenities that make up the Propane Energy Pod: space heating, water heating, cooking, clothes drying, and fireplaces. But even if a homeowner opts for an electric system such as geothermal heating, propane remains a vital amenity, says Matthew Bostick, the company’s purchasing manager. “I don’t think we’ve built a house in The Cliffs communities where we didn’t put in a propane tank,” he says.
“Gas is very much a part of what we do and our construction. In The Cliffs communities especially, where they don’t have gas lines run, the option is to go with a propane tank.”
A net-zero house that the firm is currently constructing provides an instructive example. The buyer, a technology buff, wanted a solar photovoltaic system, an ultra-insulated envelope, and a geothermal system for space heating and water heating. But he still chose propane for the home’s clothes dryer and gas fireplace, which isn’t uncommon, Bostick says.
“There’s always something that’s going to use gas,” he says. “Most of the time, people want a gas dryer, because it dries faster.” Gas fireplaces offer the convenience of instant start at the flick of a switch, and many buyers opt for a gas log even in their wood fireplaces. And gas water heating is standard, whether the home is in the Lakes region or the Mountain region.
“Gas is very much a part of what we do and our construction,” Bostick says. “In The Cliffs communities especially, where they don’t have gas lines run, the option is to go with a propane tank.”