Going Green with MODUS Development

MODUS Development
Written by Allison Dempsey

Being at the forefront of environmentally aware construction combined with modern, stylish residential design is what MODUS Development has taken pride in since its inception in 2000, focusing on sustainability and Net Zero Energy (NZE) which appeals to both clients and investors alike.

With a host of awards to its name, MODUS continues to break the mold when it comes to continually stretching the boundaries of new and innovative design while embracing both technology and eco-friendly awareness for each new project.

Based in Phoenix, Arizona, MODUS stakes its well-earned reputation on crafting green buildings at a comparable cost to regular ones, while featuring sleek and stylish designs not always associated with eco-friendly dwellings. This promise, of something different and unique, can be found right in its name: Modern (MOD), Urban (U), and Smart (S).

“My major was Computer Science and Technology in college, and then I went into real estate, so I’ve basically brought my two careers together,” says President Ed Gorman. “It’s made us uniquely qualified to do this, because too many people in home building are intimidated by technology, don’t make a lot of innovative moves, and are doing it the way it’s always been done. We feel comfortable innovating and we try to push the envelope in everything we do. Everything we’ve done is for a better design and we’re constantly looking to improve.”

Innovation and improvement are high on MODUS’ long list of achievements, along with national recognition as one of the top developers of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and Net Zero Energy (NZE) buildings.

“We’re really proud of our industry first accomplishments,” Gorman says. “We’ve since gone on to be a leader in LEED, building the first Net Zero Energy multi-family project in the state, and the first 100 percent Net Zero apartment in the whole country. We’ve really carved out a niche in that we’ve focused on technology as one of our pillars of success.”

Embracing the latest technology and always seeking opportunities for progress, improvement and expansion has set MODUS apart from competitors, who are often impeded by their inability to change with the times and with clients’ demands. MODUS also focuses on locations with proven income and job growth in prime development areas to further ensure ongoing success.

“It’s about great locations, great design and leveraging technology,” says Gorman. “Technology enhances your lifestyle, but most people see that solely as automation in door locks, thermostats and lighting controls. We also look at technology as building science, which is materials such as spray foam insulation, LED lighting and high-performance heating and cooling, thereby reducing the overall demand for energy. This allows our projects to utilize solar panels to cost effectively achieve Net Zero Energy.”

MODUS is using this technology and its experience to make it economically feasible to produce Net Zero Energy homes, including 200-unit communities around Arizona. MODUS plans to expand into Colorado, Texas and California – where all homes are now required to be Net Zero – a challenge MODUS is up to tackling.

“The key to success is being open about technology, doing things differently and not being afraid. At the same time it’s about surrounding yourself with a great team and taking things on like building science technology.”

Gorman’s team remains open to new suggestions, whether from engineers or from vendors selling heating and cooling equipment. For Gorman, though, he pushes the importance of education above all.

“If a builder isn’t willing to learn and continue educating themselves in the latest technology, then they’re going to be doing it the same way they’ve always done it,” he says. “We differentiate ourselves by creating a brand that people recognize as a leader in style and innovation, and obviously we have to bring quality, too. We’re always trying to build the best product we can, and it’s fortunate that consumers recognize that.”

And, of course, the environment is always at the forefront of MODUS’ focus on sustainability. “That’s what we do! We’re pretty much a national leader in providing Net Zero Energy and Energy Star homes,” he says. “It’s important to address the environment, but what I’ve discovered over the 15 years is nobody wants to spend more money to have those green issues resolved, nor do they want to sacrifice their comfort or lifestyle.”

Gorman knows MODUS’ buildings can’t compromise on comfort or cost more and should actually enhance clients’ lifestyles rather than detract from it. “When I meet and talk with people, everybody thinks ‘green’ means water saving or energy saving, but green is also money,” he says. “If they can save money that’s even better. Over the last decade through experimentation, innovation and research, we’ve built NZE buildings at the same cost of a normal building, and that’s what really sets up apart because now you don’t have to charge the consumer more for the benefit.”

MODUS buildings look as good as or better than anything available, he says, and yet they perform more efficiently, with owners and renters saving at least 50 percent on electric bills. “So many people aren’t familiar with how you can achieve energy savings on bills,” Gorman says. “I’m a frequent guest lecturer at schools and organizations because a lot of giving back is providing education. We can all write a check and feel good, but if we can help other people do it, that’s how we make a major change. A bigger give back is the education we provide.”

MODUS has faced its share of obstacles, however, with the recession forcing the company to step back and reconsider its focus. The team decided that great locations, great design, and leveraging technology was the way to go – but more importantly, doing it in a way that didn’t cost more. Future plans include scaling the business up to thousands of homes and taking its concept out to the masses so more people can experience the spectacular benefits of the company’s approach.

Gorman mentions MZ and MZ2 as two examples of NZE projects that exhibit style and luxury — both boast porcelain tile from Italy and quartz countertops — something clients often don’t associate with energy savings; however, they are materials that can last a lifetime. Gorman is proud of the fact its projects have won awards for both style and technology, a difficult accomplishment which demonstrates they create a product that’s attractive to the eye, yet catches the attention of those interested in sustainability and technology, a combination that is no easy feat.

Gorman credits MODUS’ team of experts as vital to its ongoing dedication to innovation and subsequent success. “They’re always bringing a new creative environment that nurtures that,” he says. “Our small size makes us nimble, and we can turn on a dime and change direction much easier than a larger home builder,” he says. “In the beginning very few people were pushing the style that we were, and people looked at us and said, ‘what are you doing?’ And now people are copying us, or trying to.”

And innovation is indeed what sets the company apart, as people want new, different and fresh in all areas of their lives without having to pay exorbitant prices.

“You get bored doing the same thing over and over,” Gorman says. “The legacy homebuilders are about producing homes in the most cost-effective way on a massive scale, but when you’re an innovator you need to be cost-effective and find ways to implement new technologies while still maximizing profit. The more people adopt technologies, the more accepted, mainstream and cost-effective they become.”

One of MODUS’ biggest challenges is finding suitable land in great locations, because the market is so hot right now, and prices are pushing up to a level that doesn’t often make economic sense for anyone to build on. It’s a challenge the company is addressing with creative financing options, Joint Ventures, and building in new markets. In addition, as the market has improved and as MODUS has proven its track record for profitably building high performance homes, capital sources have expanded greatly.

People are catching on, but, as Gorman reiterates, education remains an ongoing daily challenge. And while consumers are far more in tune today than they were 15 years ago and can educate themselves via the internet, MODUS still works hard to help consumers truly understand everything that goes into crafting a green development that is sustainable now and into the future.

“We get people’s attention by focusing on the economics of it. If people can save money by saving half on their electric bill or have no electric bill at all, that really gets their attention,” he says. “Green represents the money in their pocket they’re saving. If you have a more energy-efficient building, you’re doing the right thing for the environment, but you’re also doing a good thing for yourself by saving money.”

So it’s killing two birds with one stone, in a way, by creating sustainable, eco-friendly dwellings while saving money at the same time. And Gorman plans to keep doing both and doing both well.

“We all have the same 24 hours in a day or 40 hours in a business week,” he says. “If you can do something relevant and make money doing that, then why not?”



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