When builder Paul Goodner made a video to introduce himself to potential customers, he didn’t have to spend much time on camera himself. He just let his satisfied clients do the talking.
“Working with Paul is such a positive that you find yourself recommending him, and I talk up our house all the time to people,” says one smiling homeowner. “Everything is just so nicely done.”
Referrals from happy customers are a prime source of business for many custom builders. Goodner, owner of Goodner Brothers Construction in Georgetown, Texas, earns his stellar reviews by helping his clients design homes built for the way they live. They’re comfortable, custom-designed, and energy efficient, thanks in large part to a full complement of propane-fueled systems and appliances.
“We equip every home with a propane tank, with at least two gas furnaces and two on-demand propane water heaters,” says Goodner, who builds primarily in Georgetown’s Cimarron Hills community, which has no natural gas access. “Everybody loves gas cooking, so we put propane at the cooktop. We put propane at the dryer. And then we’ll at least have three more spots, one for outdoor cooking, one for an outdoor fireplace, and then at least one indoor fireplace.”
By including propane for space heating, water heating, cooking, clothes drying, and fireplaces, an approach known as the Propane Energy Pod, Goodner maximizes the performance and efficiency of his custom homes. He also earns rebates up to $1,500 per home and up to $7,500 per year through the Propane Energy Pod Builder Incentive Program, which provides an incentive to qualifying builders who follow the Propane Energy Pod model. The incentive can help builders absorb any added costs from gas installations. “It just helps us keep propane affordable,” Goodner says.
Goodner Brothers builds about eight houses a year, mostly in Cimarron Hills, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course community west of Georgetown, 15 minutes north of Austin on the edge of Texas Hill Country. Goodner’s clients, often high-tech workers moving up from Austin or migrating from the West Coast, are building million-dollar-plus homes averaging 3,800 square feet. While natural gas is not available in the community, Goodner provides the high-performance gas systems customers expect by using propane.
For instance, Goodner’s standard HVAC spec includes two Carrier Infinity Series two-stage, variable-speed propane furnaces. Those furnaces pair with a standard foam insulation package to create a very energy-efficient and comfortable home, Goodner says. “People here think 30 degrees is cold, and we get down into the teens and 20s. These propane furnaces will fire off and warm that house quickly.” Goodner doesn’t recommend customers rely on an electric heat pump. “My wife hates heat pumps because they blow cold air on you,” he says. “It’s not very comfortable.”
Energy-saving propane tankless water heaters are another standard spec. “A lot of our clients travel,” Goodner says. “They love the fact that if they’re gone, those on-demand water heaters aren’t heating that water until it’s called for. It’s a very efficient way to heat water.”
“We have customers come back and say, ‘Paul, you build a really energy-efficient house.’ It really helps with their cost-of-living expenses.”
While it might seem like the owners of a high-end home wouldn’t fret about spending extra for their utility bills, Goodner says energy-efficient features such as insulation, HVAC, and water heating are absolutely a priority for his clients. “A lot of people are buying a million-dollar house because they’ve been prudent with their money for the last 30 years,” he says. “We have customers come back and say, ‘Paul, you build a really energy-efficient house.’ It really helps with their cost-of-living expenses.”
On each project, Goodner sits down with the homeowner and an architect to find out what’s important to them in their home. That conversation frequently starts with the kitchen.
“For most of our customers, we’re building what you would call a culinary kitchen,” Goodner says. “It’s where families gather. It’s where parties happen.” The range, he says, is normally the focal point of the kitchen. So Goodner frequently specs a professional-grade Thermador or Wolf 48-inch propane cooktop with six burners and a griddle. “It’s a great sales feature for us. We build model homes where people walk in and one of the first unit features they comment on is that propane cooktop.”
Next on the priority list in the Central Texas climate is the outdoor living space, where some of his customers cook just as many meals as they do indoors. All of Goodner’s homes include a very generous outdoor living area with a propane grill (frequently a 36-inch Coyote grill with LED lights and a rotisserie) and, usually, an outdoor fireplace with propane logs.
“There’s no reason not to use propane for your furnaces, for everything that you can power with it.”
Inside the home, customers are increasingly opting for a remote-controlled propane fireplace that comes to life at the press of a button. “People in Texas aren’t going to spend a lot of time gathering firewood,” Goodner says. “Most of our customers in these million-dollar-plus homes don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning ashes out of the fireplace.” Recently, clients have even begun switching from log burners to full propane fireplaces on their porch. “That’s a real change from when we first started,” he says. “They say, ‘Paul, I do not want to fool with burning wood and shoveling ashes.'”
Since each gas connection adds about $200 in plumbing costs, Goodner says he makes sure to educate his customers on why his homes include so many propane systems. In each case, he says, the premium performance and energy savings of gas systems are well worth the upfront cost. “Once you spend the money to get that 500-gallon tank in the ground,” he says, “there’s no reason not to use propane for your furnaces, for everything that you can power with it.”