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It’s not often that developers happen upon clear land in a densely populated inner suburb.

So when Rockwell Custom had the opportunity to develop a small, wooded plot in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, just seven miles from the city center of Philadelphia, the developer jumped on it. The land, owned by a large cemetery, had been used for years to dump the cemetery’s grass clippings, but the owners were finally ready to sell.

The land was an ideal spot to build 24 new townhomes that would face virtually no new-construction competition. Dubbed Creekside at Llanerch, the community would bring a short commute and modern features such as open floorplans, large closets, two-car garages, and new appliances to a neighborhood filled with older resale properties.

There was just one hitch: It was too expensive to bring in natural gas.

Rockwell Custom’s Infill Solution

Rockwell Custom had the opportunity to develop a small plot in a densely populated suburb of Philadelphia. There was just one hitch: It was too expensive to bring in natural gas.

“The public utility wanted us to pay for the line and it just didn’t make sense,” says Tom Burleigh, Rockwell Custom’s general manager, who oversees portions of the company’s development, construction, and sales operations. “They gave me a rough estimate for it, and it was going to cost upward of $150,000.” The cost might have come close to scrapping the project. Adding $6,000 or more to the cost of homes in the $200,000 to $250,000 price range would have a significant impact on margins.

Communitywide propane

So the developer turned to a solution that would provide the homes with the same desirable gas amenities without the exorbitant expense: a community propane system.

The developer’s propane provider, Liberty Propane, was able to design a system that doesn’t change the way homeowners perceive gas coming into their homes. Rather than individual tanks, the homes are served by a central propane storage system that distributes propane to each home just like a natural gas line.

“Each house is individually metered, so customers only pay for the gas that they use in their home,” Burleigh says. “The additional benefit is that the tanks are remotely monitored, so the customer never worries about ‘Am I going to run out of gas?’ because Liberty Propane can monitor that remotely and be able to fill those tanks on demand.” The propane storage will be located at the entrance to the cul de sac community so the propane can be delivered with minimal disturbance to homeowners.

Gas vs. electric

The community’s new-construction features are a major advantage over resale homes in the infill location, so Rockwell Custom never considered forgoing gas amenities.

“I think gas systems are what’s expected in new construction,” Burleigh says. “When people are buying new construction, they want the best amenities out there. And the best amenities out there are your gas fireplaces, your gas tankless water heaters. They want those modern-day luxuries that electric just can’t offer sometimes. Being able to offer those to our customers gives us a tremendous opportunity to increase not only our sales with the customers but also our reputation in this market.”

Rockwell Custom will offer propane appliances for all five applications in the Propane Energy Pod — space heating, water heating, cooking, clothes drying, and fireplaces — so that homeowners can maximize both the performance and efficiency of their homes.

“We live in an on-demand world, and being able to offer propane gives us the opportunity to offer systems like high-efficiency gas furnaces and high-efficiency gas water heating that give people their hot water and the comfort of their home heating on demand,” Burleigh says.

With propane as the community’s infill solution, Rockwell Custom can truly maximize the value of their property, Burleigh says. “I would say being able to offer all-gas appliances is only going to make the demand for the houses greater. Being able to offer those appliances makes them more competitive and gives us an opportunity to really satisfy the market.”

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Jeffrey Lee