When it comes to home appliances, Pete Cates believes familiarity leads to popularity. “When we ask ‘Why did you decide to put this system in?’ most of the time it’s because ‘My neighbor did it’ or because ‘My friend did it,’” he says. “Those are the two biggest pushers for us.”
Of course, the inverse is true as well, as evidenced by the decline in gas space heating and water heating in southern regions such as Georgia. “Customers will not buy an appliance if they cannot see it used,” says Cates, who owns Waynesboro, Georgia–based propane marketer TruFlame Gas. So when he saw propane tankless water heating and hydronic space heating develop as potential game-changing technologies, he tried an innovative promotional tactic: He hired a builder to construct an all-propane home in Georgia himself.
Cates’s TruPower Home in Statesboro, Georgia, uses propane not only for traditionally popular amenities such as cooking, fireplaces, and outdoor living but also for mechanical systems that in Georgia are often powered by electricity. Built as a spec home and sold quickly upon completion, the home has already become influential with local builders and real estate agents.
“The Realtors saw it and loved it,” Cates says. “With the builders in that Statesboro market, our growth has increased 50 percent since building the home.”
Propane heating vs. heat pumps
The primary system Cates hopes to educate builders about is propane central heating. The TruPower home uses a Carrier central furnace that Cates says provides a comfortable, warmer source of heat; energy savings compared with electric backup heat; and a lower load on the standby generator during power outages. “The buyer said she likes the heat because it’s warm,” Cates says. “It’s quicker to heat the home up.” That comfort is enhanced by an RH Peterson Real Fyre propane log set in the area where the buyer has her morning coffee.
The home uses two Rinnai propane tankless water heaters, a technology that has seen skyrocketing growth in Cates’ region. “When we started three years ago, we were installing 50, 60 tankless water heaters a year,” he says. “Now, we’re installing 300.” Cates sees real estate agents being able to easily sell their clients on the appliance’s benefits.
“Who’s the number one influencer in a home? The Realtor,” he says. He imagines the conversation: “Hey, we’re getting ready to sell this house, and let me show you this Lexus. It’s hung on this outside wall. You got three kids and you’ll never run out of hot water. That’s enough selling point right there for me. Oh, and it costs less.”
In the TruPower home, the buyer also appreciated the space savings created by being able to move the tankless unit to the outside of the home instead of a closet. “All of a sudden, instead of that closet, which may be 9 or 16 square feet, we can make the bedroom that much bigger,” he says.
In the next home he’s building, Cates plans to combine the tankless unit with the space-heating system using Rinnai’s hydronic air handler. It allows the tankless water heater to serve double duty as an efficient heat source for the hydronic heating coil. “Every house in America has hot water and every house in America has heat, and you can’t beat a tankless water heater and you can’t beat hydronic heat,” he says.
Savings from eliminating electrical loads
Eliminating large electrical loads from water heating, space heating, cooking, and clothes drying also has other advantages for the home. Cates found that eliminating all of the 220-volt connections provides about $1,000 in electrical cost savings. It also enhances the performance of another key system in the home: the Generac propane standby generator.
“The generator that we put in this house, it didn’t need to be a 15-kW or 22-kW generator,” Cates says. “It doesn’t take that. Why? You don’t need much electricity.” The owner, who lives by herself, appreciates the security the generator provides in the event of an outage, which can be quite lengthy in rural areas in the event of an ice storm. “She can take care of herself,” Cates says. “If the electricity goes out, she doesn’t have to drive three hours to her daughter’s house.”
In Statesboro, an emerging college town, Cates knew the home needed to stand out from the competition, so he built the home on a larger lot and an interior designer selected on-trend colors and upgraded appliances. In a region where many of the rural areas have no access to natural gas, the TruPower Home is likely to help educate builders and real estate professionals about how propane can make homes more competitive, even in the South.
“I am quite pleased that the contractor built a quality home and am happiest about the Realtor comments,” Cates says. “One Realtor said, ‘I wish I’d have known about this house before. I could show this house over and over again.’”