Housing in the U.S. is moving in new directions to be more sustainable. Gene Myers, owner and CEO of New Town Builders, is a big part of that effort. New Town recently received the Grand Award for Innovation from the U.S. Department of Energy for the second year in a row.
Seven builders qualified for the innovation category and met “rigorous requirements of outstanding levels for energy savings, comfort, health and durability.”
“It’s a great honor because there are really great builders that compete for it so I was candidly surprised to receive it two years in a row,” Myers says.
The “closet Texan” went to the University of Denver in 1969 and, with the exception of a few lengths of time away, has spent his entire life in Denver. He started New Town Builders in 1993 doing high-end semi-custom work. New Town was Colorado’s first production builder to equip homes with solar panels as a standard feature and the first production builder to offer a Zero Energy option on all single-family homes in Denver. Myers became interested in New Urbanism in the early 2000s. His Bell Creek development in Commerce City won the highest honor at the Pacific Coast conference and attracted Forest City to develop Stapleton.
New Town builds three types of homes in Stapleton: Solaris II Single Family, Z.E.N. Single Family and Conservatory Green Rows. The Zero-Energy Z.E.N. home won the innovation award.
Myers believes in “thinking outside the beige box” and has become known for two areas in housing development: sustainability and affordability.
Coming from humble beginnings, he knows the power of owning a home. “If you’re trying to get on your feet or trying to get ahead or just a hardworking family, about the only thing you get is home ownership.” He believes no one understands that more than a low-income family.
Denver is short 30,000 affordable housing units, meaning 30,000 people cannot afford their house or don’t have adequate housing.
Eight to 10 percent of New Town housing units are affordable housing. New Town also recently found out they have up to 120 lots north of I-70 to build affordable homes. They’ve received 11 proposals from architects and are deciding which to contract with.
Myers has served on task forces for affordable housing, including co-chairing a committee with the city and county of Denver. Affordable housing is more of a philosophical discussion, he says. Should affordable housing be mixed into more expensive areas? He says yes. New Town affordable homes are sprinkled among other more costly homes.
“It’s becoming impossible to live in the city you want to live in,” says Damon Knop, Stapleton resident and real estate agent who worked for New Town selling affordable units from 2007 to 2010. “You need a guy like Gene to help affordable housing come to fruition so there are homes at all different price points available for all different people.” He describes Myers as a Hawaiian- shirt-and-shorts kind of boss who makes a big company feel like family.
“New Town is also cutting-edge on the green stuff and at a price point that makes them valuable builders.”
New Town is one of the few production builders in the country building zero-energy homes. “It’s a really rigorous design exercise that looks at many different options and means by which we can get to zero energy. Then we price them and then just keep going back to the drawing board,” Myers says and laughs. He’s thankful for his team, the “highest caliber people” he’s ever had in his career.
The team has hit the sweet spot in terms of production cost and price for customers. Z.E.N. homes cost an additional $100 a month in the mortgage payment, but saves people $300 a month in energy bills. “As utility bills continue to increase, the more that savings will be as time goes by and so that’s why we say it makes economic sense to pay a little more.”
It seems to make sense to buyers also. The Z.E.N. models opened October 2013 and sold out in March.
Myers feels blessed to be a builder now when buyers have aspirations for their homes that may exceed even what the builders include in the homes. “In the past, if you pushed the envelope too far no one would buy it. Nowadays buyers are way ahead of the builders. It’s great to be a builder and innovating out there in the marketplace, especially in Stapleton. I’m just very grateful for that.”