WICHITA, KS — There’s a 68 year-old home in suburban Wichita that’s a lot younger than it looks. The mid-60s, mostly-brick ranch home began to be an eyesore in the neighborhood. That is, until one of the city’s visionaries had an inspiration.
Certified Passive House Consultant and builder, Jeff Jones—president and owner TRU-Building, Inc. (TRU), based in Wichita—is one of the Midwest’s leading energy efficient and sustainability-focused construction experts. The portfolio of energy efficient homes confirm the innovative passion he and his team embrace.
In a growth mode recently, TRU-Building needed a new headquarters for the growing team to call home. Jones had already acquired a property and completed architectural planning to build a facility when the old home and property, just half a mile from their existing building, came to his attention.
Jones learned that the old home just down the road had been vacant for almost a decade. Yet, he saw that it was an ideal opportunity to showcase the capabilities of his firm. It offered great potential as the ultimate expression of sustainability.
Good Bones and Bad News
One of the reasons the property was chosen, Jones shared, was that the foundation was solid, and that it had “good bones.” Built in 1955, the home had a poured concrete foundation with steel I-beams supporting the main floor—both, exceptionally rare at the time—which helped to explain its still-standing, solid condition.
As can be expected with renovation projects, unpleasant revelations came with the discovery of termite and water damage, and mold. Renovations came to a halt while the team shifted into demolition mode, removing sheetrock and some framing.
The biggest surprise of all came a few weeks later when Jones took a call from a friend and business colleague, Jeremy Hobbs, branch manager of the manufacturer’s rep firm, J. M. O’Conner, with offices in Wichita and Kansas City. Hobbs and his team were attending a presentation by Taco Comfort Solutions. He spoke about Taco’s latest technology, System M, an innovative air-to-water heat pump system that provides comfortable, efficient heating, cooling, and domestic hot water. “It’s a fully-packaged system that’s super easy to install, and 400+ percent efficient,” explained Brice Walsten, O’Connor’s outside sales engineer.
Before the call ended, Jones agreed that the appliance would be perfect for the new/old building as he could see how System M could be a focal point to showcase TRU-Building’s emphasis on energy efficiency, sustainability and electrification.
“We gladly walk the walk to demonstrate what we mean by our actions, rather than by what we say,” he added.
The Crown Jewel: System M
Invariably, every tour of TRU-Building’s new facility makes a stop in “the cave,” the comfortable sitting area located in the lower level. “That’s where visitors and prospective customers find a source of real intrigue,” explained Dave Trotter, Taco’s regional manager of wholesale products.
Trotter and a team of Taco pros were on hand for a well-attended open house event held at TRU-Building’s new facility in April. “We had a chance to talk to a lot of good folks during the event—from employees and business partners to prospective customers,” he said. “There was a lot of interest in System M.”
“Jeff Jones and I have worked together on a wide variety of projects for 20 or 25 years,” said Highfill. “We’ve become the preferred HVAC installer for TRU-Build. “When he called to tell me about System M, and that it would be used for their new facility, I was eager to help.”
Highfill explained that System M is an ideal solution for home and business owners seeking an exceptionally versatile, high-efficiency hydronic heating and cooling system—with the added benefit of providing domestic water heat.
“Taco’s air-to-water heat pump system is a complete, integrated heating, cooling, and domestic hot water solution,” agreed J. M. O’Connor’s Walsten. “The technology provides up to 44,000 BTUh and 3½ tons of cooling.”
“Out of the box, System M is solar PV and smart grid ready,” he added. “Water is the most efficient and natural energy transfer medium on the planet. In a nutshell, it’s everything most homeowners need for heating and cooling—and it heats domestic water, too.”
Highfill added that, for TRU-Build’s facility, System M’s indoor unit was connected to only one zone served by a programmable thermostat. Both floors of the facility were ideally met with no need for multiple zones. “Come to think of it, for facilities or homes with multiple zones, connecting the indoor unit to them would undoubtedly save installation time,” added Highfill.
The outdoor portion of the heat pump comes with inverter technology and a quiet, variable speed fan. The factory-assembled indoor “hydrobox” unit contains an integrated hydronic thermal storage buffer tank, user interface with smartphone app control, and a high-efficiency, dual-ECM pump module.
“Jeff Jones and TRU-Build chose well, as the heat pump provides heat for all types of distribution—via radiant, hydro-air coils, or panels,” said Trotter. “It should serve their customers well.”
“System M is an ideal fit for the type of people who’re naturally drawn to TRU-Building—and, among them, a high percentage of Net Zero’ers,” added Walsten. “They’re the early adopters, folks who’ve devoted their dollars to achieving higher efficiency and sustainability.”
“We’re very pleased with System M’s performance and efficiency,” added Jones. “We had a long string of hot days in July, each of them over 100 degrees consecutively. The heat pump’s comfort was ideal.
“It helps to protect our bottom line because of its energy efficiency, and we also appreciate that it’s a fully-packaged unit—not a bunch of parts and pieces assembled here with the hope of performance,” he added.
Walking the Walk
The renovations at 101 N. Ridge Road, Wichita are now complete and Taco’s System M has since fulfilled its expectations, too. “We’re well into our first year of super-efficient comfort,” said Jones. “The staff loves our new home; we couldn’t be more pleased with every aspect of the new facility—from its higher-visibility location and enlarged space, to the coziness and efficiency of the system that now maintains our comfort.”
Hearing this from Jones isn’t idle talk. He and his staff are immersed in the business as a long-standing partner with the US Department of Energy on the Zero Energy Ready Home program. Jones is also the only Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) in the state of Kansas.
The company also holds a position at the leading edge of a growing trend toward the type of ultra-efficient buildings and homes that Jones predicted years ago to be the next, big construction and renovation wave in the Midwest. Now, that prediction has come to pass.
“Our business pros have found that the topic of energy efficiency is a bit like a bell curve,” explained TRU-Building Brand Ambassador, Janie Moore. “Initially, people did not have the information to fully understand the additional cost of energy-efficient building. With energy prices continuing to rise, the government and DOE have begun to speak loudly in favor of improving energy efficiency while offering incentivizes for it.
“Our customers quickly learn the various interconnected facets of every building envelope component—from insulation and windows, to siding and HVAC,” she explained.
According to Moore, home and business owners alike are now far more receptive to conversations about energy efficient construction and energy renovations—much like the work TRU-Building did at their own facility. “We’ve now built many energy efficient homes and continue to tell the story so more people are learning the benefits of energy-efficient building and renovation,” she explained.
“Building energy-efficient homes offers a multitude of advantages that extend beyond just lowering energy bills,” added Moore. “Improved insulation, energy-efficient appliances and smart technologies ensure optimal comfort year-round, with stable indoor temperatures and exceptional indoor air quality. Also, energy-efficient homes tend to hold their value better over time while also attracting environmentally-conscious buyers. By embracing these construction practices, homeowners contribute to a more sustainable future while enjoying long-term cost savings and improved living standards.”
According to Jones, the company’s mix of business—commercial construction, residential construction, and renovation—is fluid, year to year. Last year, the emphasis was on commercial, and this year, that role is reversed. “It’s just the nature of the market, adjusting to post-COVID circumstance. It’ll stabilize in time,” he said.