Prospective home buyers often come to Andy Stauffer looking for their own private slice of Colorado.
Stauffer, president and owner of Stauffer and Sons Construction in Colorado Springs, has become a specialist in lodge-style mountain homes, typically on acreage. Customers frequently approach him with a vision: A secluded home in a remote area with a flickering fireplace.
But that vision doesn’t typically include giving up popular and convenient features such as gas fire pits, cooking, and forced-air heating, Stauffer says. “When they think about the prospect of living in a more remote location, they tend to think that maybe they’ll have to give up some of those amenities,” he says.
“We tell them, ‘No, by no means,'” he says. Installing a propane gas system allows him to provide those homeowners with the seclusion and privacy they’re seeking — without giving up the amenities they associate with more developed neighborhoods.
Those amenities tend to be important for Stauffer’s customers, who are building “very nice” homes ranging in price from $300,000 to more than $1 million. “Certain amenities are entirely utilitarian, such as heating your house with a forced-air unit or radiant heat,” Stauffer says.
“Others have more of a romance factor to them, which is wanting to have a roaring fireplace. More often than not, the folks we’re building for are empty nesters or just about empty-nesters, and the idea of having a home heated with firewood — it sounds romantic, but they’ve lived long enough to know that that’s just kind of a pain-in-the-butt. So most of them want to be able to flick a switch and have a fire start in their master bedroom and create that ambience right away with very little effort.”
Extending that ambience outdoors is particularly vital amidst the beauty of the Colorado mountains and in a climate where that beauty peaks during the “shoulder months” of spring and fall. “You might want to be out enjoying the turning aspens, except it dipped down to evening lows of 50 degrees, a little bit lower than sweater weather,” he says. “With covered patios, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, we’re turning towards propane to help lengthen that season.”
In a remote location away from the natural gas main, Stauffer says he rarely thinks about simply foregoing those desirable gas features. “We just don’t do that,” he says. “We say, ‘Okay, we don’t have natural gas, so of course we’re going with propane.”
Beating the baseboard
While choosing propane for space heating and water heating may be less romantic, it’s also an important upgrade. In the Colorado Springs market, electric baseboard heaters are the typical alternative to a propane furnace in all-electric homes. While they’re cheap, those electric heaters simply don’t cut it at homes above the entry-level price range, Stauffer says. “Colorado’s a very dry climate to begin with. Electric heat is certainly not going to help the situation, and if anything it exacerbates that dryness.”
“A propane backup to a photovoltaic system is an absolute must.”
And while builders using baseboard units may escape with low initial costs, their customers will pay for it in their electric bills. Stauffer knows from experience in his own home. “When we get lazy and we start turning on the thermostats with our electric baseboard heat, we feel it in our utility bills,” he says. “It gets to where instead of a $250-a-month utility bill, we’ll be at $550 or $600, just because we were cranking up the thermostats.”
The pursuit of solitude can lead some home buyers to plots of land that even the power grid doesn’t reach. In fact, Stauffer says about 20 percent of his off-grid customers are independent by choice rather than necessity. In off-grid scenarios, Stauffer says he explores every available option to heat and power his homes, from photovoltaics to wind power and geothermal. The most common solution, however, is a photovoltaic solar array, with a battery and propane generator as backup.
“We may be building off-grid, but we’re not building a cabin in the woods, so we’ll have built-in redundancy in the systems,” Stauffer says. “So a propane backup to a photovoltaic system is an absolute must.”
Ultimately, Stauffer sees his role as building flexibility and adaptability into his homes. That may include planning ahead to keep a home accessible for aging empty nesters, or building in backup for inevitable power lapses.
“It just dovetails with our overall building philosophy of not being static in our approach to building, but wanting to have a holistic approach to taking care of our needs now and then unexpected needs,” Stauffer says. “I think that’s a big part of what propane helps us achieve.”