As a child, Bill McDonald suffered from severe allergies to the point where doctors recommended he not go outside for days. His home, like most others in the mid-1990s, did not have sufficient fresh air ventilation systems, which can exacerbate allergies.
That experience, along with the demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency, inspired McDonald to pursue a career in creating sustainable homes. He and his sister, Kate McDonald, now run Phoenix Haus, a company that specializes in producing passive buildings, which are essentially energy efficient houses.
The name Phoenix Haus can be seen as meaning two things: How McDonald, founder and CEO, surpassed his sicknesses to run the company, and how he and Kate, COO, want to rebuild an aging industry.
“As the construction industry is going into the next normal, it’s disrupting how teams design,” Bill McDonald said. “An inefficient industry is in this disruptive state.”
The inefficiency stems from what McDonald refers to as a project-based construction. Essentially, this means that each project consists of independent entities and firms collaborating on complex projects. Phoenix Haus wants to solve that by consolidating different aspects of the process under one roof, also known as vertical integration.
“Product focus allows for the consolidation of the industry into vertically integrated product solutions, leveraging a streamlined supply chain,” Bill said. “Focusing on a model where products and components are designed ahead of time, optimized for the application, and rapidly built and installed under this new method of operation.”
The standard passive house makes the building’s envelope — whatever separates the interior from the environment such as walls, doors or windows — airtight. This method prevents thermal bridging, which is when heat finds the path of least resistance in a home. For example, most homes have fiberglass insulation nestled between walls. It’s easier for heat to travel through the studs in the walls than the insulation, creating a thermal bridge. That leads to heat loss and higher energy bills.
Phoenix Haus uses continuous exterior insulation, a method where one continuous piece of insulation is installed. This eliminates thermal bridging.
Phoenix Haus’ production staff consists entirely of ex-oil and gas workers. That field and woodworking are both technical trades, which require problem solving, hands-on working and tool knowledge, McDonald said.
Phoenix Haus began in Michigan. But they were forming a strong customer base in Colorado and decided to move to Grand Junction. This cut down shipping costs and offered a chance to be closer to the people living in their products.
“We were sending a lot of our products out west so the move made sense,” Bill said. “The Grand Junction Economic Partnership’s Jump-Start program really helped our move. We’re also close to so many outdoor activities. It’s been great here.”
Passive homes do come with a hefty upfront cost that can intimidate buyers. Especially so for anyone who doesn’t think the long-term savings are enough to offset higher-than average construction costs. The five homes listed on Phoenix Haus’ website, for example, range in price from over $323,000 to over $900,000. The cost does not include the land itself, but the materials and construction of the home.
The size of the five houses listed on Phoenix Haus’ website range from 1,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet.
If someone is interested in its product, they’ll reach out to Phoenix Haus. If that person is in the company’s service area, then the house will be designed and produced. Then it will be shipped and put together on-site.
The biggest issue facing Phoenix Haus’ growth, McDonald said, is finding an efficient way to increase the company’s presence, production and markets.
Once it does, though, he and Kate expect a demand.
“Customers love it because the construction can be done in 3-4 less months,” Kate McDonald said. “I love being part of something that you’re creating and bringing solutions to problems.”
It also helps those like Bill McDonald who needed cleaner air to function. It offers solutions, and that’s what the siblings love about it.
“It makes me happy that I can build a healthy house for a family,” Bill said.