Time was when the potential of solar panels wasn’t widely recognized by conventional builders. It took a young generation to see the light, and among them was Richard Bergman, who, during the late 1970s, would become one of the solar energy pioneers in the Buffalo, New York, area.
“I was the first green-certified builder in Western New York,” remembers Bergman, owner of Heartland Homes in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville. “We weren’t always taken seriously.”
He is now, and his company may still be ahead of the curve when it comes to not only solar power, but all kinds of sustainable building processes sought by clients who recognize substantial savings on heating, cooling and water usage.
A shining example
Among the most desirable subdivisions in Erie County is Spaulding Green, where high-end homes are placed on spacious, bucolic lots, all within an easy commute of a revived Buffalo.
Made up of four distinct neighborhoods, its master-planned Clarence neighborhood allows for denser placement, and it’s there where Heartland Homes has bought 33 lots. It’s built five highly energy-efficient patio homes and has plans for 28 more.
Smaller than houses in other parts of Spaulding Green, the one- and two-story patio homes are often the choice of first-time buyers or older folks looking to, as Bergman says, “right-size,” not downsize, their lifestyle.
Detached for privacy, Bergman’s homes offer a still-spacious 1,600 to 2,100 square feet, only on smaller lots and with cluster placement that enables condominium status.
Benefits may include up to 40 percent savings on property taxes as well as fewer worries about everyday maintenance since a homeowners’ association sees to mowing and plowing. While such houses lend themselves to customization, they generally include an open hardwood floor plan, energy-efficient Pella windows that let in ample sunlight, high ceilings, Kohler fixtures and granite or quartz countertops. With Bergman’s professional memberships including the National Association of Home Builders 50+ Housing Council, he has particular insight into the needs of older Americans who might be drawn into such a lifestyle.
“These kinds of very convenience homes are just what many people want, and they really fit right into one of the concepts of Spaulding Green,” says Bergman during a mid-June phone conversation.
And green from the get-go, which is also the case with higher-end houses Bergman has built in the nearby Alderbrook Place neighborhood.
Geothermal energy, a tight building envelope and healthy air quality from natural ventilation and toxin-free building materials, are Heartland Homes options that many clients wouldn’t do without.
Cost-effective, reliable and sustainable, the harnessing of the Earth’s energy was once limited to regions with tectonic plate boundaries. That posed a challenge for Buffalo and the rest of New York state, which sits smack-dab in the middle of one of those plates, reducing earthquake risks but putting the planet’s subterranean heat out of easy range.
Today’s technology, however, vastly extends the geothermal range, and Bergman takes full advantage. With efficiency coming from the ground below and the sun above, a Heartland Home may result in 20-30 percent savings in energy costs and up to 50 percent in reduced water usage. Bergman adds that resale value of such a home is enhanced, and there are a plethora of local, state and federal tax breaks available for LEED- and Energy Star-approved homes.
Looks also matter
Of course, practicality isn’t all a homeowner wants. Inside and out, the house still needs to look good, and in this area Bergman has the perfect partner.
His wife, Dorothy, an interior designer, advises clients on adding the personal touch that turns a house into a home. Her services complement the rest of Heartland Homes’ modus operandi that includes extensive collaboration before any ground is broken.
“I have a design questionnaire that’s among the first steps in the process,” Bergman explains. “I want to know how people live, what they expect and what they’re looking for in a new house. I bring up matters that they may not have thought about, and then they realize the importance of such pre-planning. We’re going to get it right.”
The husband-wife team that makes up Heartland Homes has had a lot of practice in doing just that. Bergman got his start teaching design for seven years at the University of Buffalo, while also building custom cabinets for furniture stores. Ever focused on the future, he began buying Buffalo fixer-uppers and started a renovations business.
He moved to Malibu, California, and became a real estate broker (deals in California as well as Hong Kong) and branched into custom home building. Back in Buffalo for a high school reunion, he met Dorothy, and sometime after they married, he returned to the Buffalo area and began Heartland Homes.
Patio homes aren’t all he builds.
The company’s extensive portfolio includes two-story contemporary and classical mansions on large lots that any professional would be proud to call home. Three-car garages, woodworking shops and even beer-brewing sections are all within the capabilities of Heartland Homes and its many skilled subcontractors. But all Heartland Homes share the common denominators of attention to detail, energy efficiency, solid construction and resale value.
“I can build off the back of a napkin,” says Bergman. “And if a client has an issue, one phone call and it’s handled. If I can’t be on the site, I tell my guys, ‘fix it as if it’s your own’ and I tell the client ‘don’t worry about the price.’”
View the full Spaudling Green feature here.
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