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Utah's greenest homes? Try blue-collar South Salt Lake

Published March 14, 2012 5:16 pm

Geothermal and solar features, affordability add up to edgy South Salt Lake community.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sewage treatment plants, strip malls, jails, abandoned buildings, freeways and the most visually stunning, energy-efficient housing community in Utah.

South Salt Lake truly has it all.

But the latter, dubbed TerraSol, breaks the green-housing mold — not just for this blue-collar neighborhood but for the Beehive State overall.

Opened last summer, and already 65 percent sold, TerraSol marries ultra-modern architecture with geothermal and solar engineering that keeps utility bills below $10 a month, sometimes $5.

And the development, located at 300 E. Penny Ave. (3550 South), boasts another enticing feature: Unlike much "green" construction, it is priced for families to afford.

"What's remarkable about this is we built no spec homes at all. We started selling immediately when we opened," says Rene Oehlerking, marketing director for Garbett Homes. "We sold both the models."

TerraSol, named for harnessing energy from the Earth and the sun, has 40 single-family homes and 20 smaller "twin homes," which share a single wall. They average three bedrooms and 2.5 baths with two-car garages, and each unit has an unfinished basement offering room to expand.

Square footage ranges between 1,500 and 3,200 while prices go from $194,000 to $259,000.

So how did the builder incorporate cutting-edge efficiency with reasonable prices?

"That's the secret sauce," jokes Oehlerking, who notes 13 homes sold in February.

The answer is buying materials in volume, making solar and geothermal elements standard, and offsetting price by eliminating furnace and air-conditioning units.

Oehlerking shifts to a car analogy to drive the point. "If we could essentially sell a Prius for the same price as a Corolla," he says, "we'd sell a lot of cars."

Construction crews also substitute two-by-fours with two-by-sixes, favor blown-in fiber insulation (much of it organic), and use an eco-friendly exterior seal to make the homes airtight.

Molly Prince is a believer. She and her husband unloaded their home near Liberty Park over the holidays to try on TerraSol.

"When we started looking around and I saw the picture of the one we're actually in, I thought, 'Oh, that's weird.' But once I got inside and saw how open and roomy it was ...," she explains. "Now we really like them. The spaciousness is nice. They're all green. They're environmentally friendly."

But Prince is most excited about her new gas bill.

"It was $7.60 for the first month. The second month was $10.70," she recalls. "We're pretty pleased because even on our equal-pay plan in our old house we were paying like $72 a month. It stays warm. It's airtight. There's no draft by the windows. Our house is just plain comfortable."

To make sure the facades did justice to the modest carbon footprints, TerraSol tapped California-based KTGY Group to create an "edgy" design. "They're usually about 10 years ahead of the rest of the country," Oehlerking says.

Founding KTGY partner John Tully praises Garbett as a pioneer for using the leading-edge solar and geothermal technologies — typically reserved for custom homes — in regular homes.

"Garbett transformed an older, less-desirable neighborhood in South Salt Lake and revitalized it with exciting, new architectural styles and eco-friendly homes appealing to empty nesters and young, first-time homebuyers," Tully says in a statement. "Empty nesters love the location and its close proximity to downtown amenities, and the young homebuyers are attracted to the cool exteriors, the modern, high-tech interior, and the affordable green technologies."

Skeptics can even see the "green" for themselves. One model, set up for potential buyers, has peeled-back walls, floors and ceilings to showcase the energy-saving features.

Garbett owner Bryson Garbett notes his wife grew up near the South Salt Lake property formerly owned by the Granite School District — and says he has kept his eye on it ever since.

"I've always thought that people would be interested in living there because it's very close to downtown, and it's a nice, quiet area," he says. "It's a blue-collar area, but it's a nice area."

On the market just six months, TerraSol has managed to attract a mix of families, international buyers and former downtown renters who still ride their bikes to work, according to Garbett.

"They value the look, the architecture, the location," he says. "And they especially value the energy efficiency."

In turn, once-industrial South Salt Lake has a new color: green.


TerraSol by the numbers

60 homes ranging from $194,000 to $259,000.

Monthly electric bills as low as $5, gas bills $7.

40 detached units have three bedrooms, 2.5 baths.

Development at 3550 S. 300 East is 65 percent sold.