We spoke with builder Ben Hemberger of Benjamin & Company about his high quality, energy efficient custom timber-frame home building business. We’ve collaborated with them on numerous projects where solar was integrated with the home design, and wanted to get a sense of what is drawing people in to build their homes better and when and how solar enters into the discussion.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get interested in solar?
My father was an architect so I’ve been around the industry my entire life. I learned from my father that the carpentry trade is as much about building personal relationships and trust as it is about building houses. After exploring general carpentry, boat building and even architecture, I became interested in timber framing and went out and started my own business. We do a variety of high-end custom homes and timber framing, sometimes near net zero or passive homes but usually just looking for a ‘pretty good house.’
I’ve always been interested in energy efficient homes, starting out with solar in the mid 2000s though the technology wasn’t quite there yet. Flash forward to 2011, and I worked with ReVision for a home in Brunswick where we installed solar PV, solar hot water, and an integrated solar thermal heating system. Every home since has had solar PV. Today, it’s a no-brainer.
Can you tell us about a typical discussion with a prospective homeowner? Do you have to convince them solar is a good idea?
Our clients tend to come self-educated to a large degree: they already understand the value of solar and I don’t have to ‘sell’ it to them. Instead, we talk about the latest technology improvements, which is generally how affordable it is to generate your own electricity supply on-site with renewable solar energy, and then use that electricity to meet your heating and cooling needs with heat pumps. Once they look at the numbers, it’s a clear no-brainer.
Do people feel they need to make a trade-off between comfort and energy efficiency?
People know that solar and efficiency saves them money and is the right thing to do for the environment. What they often don’t realize, at first, is that it also results in a much more comfortable home to live in. An energy efficient house is more comfortable year-round and has higher indoor air quality. You don’t get surprise energy bills that are financially burdensome. You pay a little bit more upfront but enjoy a lifetime of peace of mind.
What one piece of advice would you give to people considering building a new home and trying to wade through all the options available to them?
Build as small and simply as you feel you can to save on energy and maintenance. It’s very popular to build bigger homes, but the reality is that the simpler you get, the easier it is to do all of this.