Lean, mean and green

How Howard Vogel creates and recreates homes for the future

TRAVERSE CITY – Howard Vogel takes old homes – even if they're a century or more old – and makes them environmentally-efficient while maintaining their classic character and charm.

Vogel, who owns Heart Stone Land & Homes, also builds green homes from scratch, using green technologies in energy and insulation. But he also stresses using recycled and re-used materials, as well as locally-produced products whenever possible.

He estimates that 95 percent of the businesses he works with are locally-owned.

"Last year, I wrote $700,000 in checks for materials and didn't write a single check to someone I did not know," he said.

Vogel spent the better part of three years working on a high-ticket home for a wealthy client. He built the home to include 21st Century green technology, but to look like a much older home. Still, he said his services are available and useful for people of more modest means.

Vogel says his methods of building cost an estimated $3 per square foot more than conventional methods, but that the return is 20-fold over a 25-year period.

His "mantra" is minimum investment/maximum outcome and employs recycling and repurposing of materials.

He was also involved in the development of a product called "splatter batter" which can be sprayed on walls and ceilings with far fewer steps than stucco, adobe or similar products, he said. The blend of elastomerics and co-polymers does not require support under-coatings or application by hand.

Vogel is not a general contractor. Instead, he creates a team of specialists to perform the different tasks. His connections from being in the construction business for the last 30 years helps him know where to obtain whatever materials and services he needs for a job.

He gets materials from Odom Re-use Co. in Grawn and the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. But other products and services come from places not as well known to the general public, like local quarries, sustainable wood lots, sawmills and such.

"My job is to vet the team," he said. "I don't have a staff."

That means he doesn't have to bid in worker's compensation, days off or insurance into the cost of a project.

"My model is lean and mean. I have all these resources and just bring them in when I need them. That's how you do business in the 21st Century. It's a collaborative model."

Vogel says the same cost benefits apply to school, government and other institutional buildings. Conventional buildings usually have lower design-build costs, but higher operational costs, he added. He's worked on major updates at the Leelanau School, renovating the headmaster's home and working on other buildings. He kept the old cottage look of the school, said Patrick Begg, business and facilities manager for the school.

He also converted the complex from propane heat to natural gas. That and other energy improvements saved the school more than $50,000 in the first year.

"That's an amazing payback," Begg said. "And he was consistently on budget or below."

Vogel also participates in a green building course affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders. Hearth Stone's web site is www.heart-stone.com.