Conserving Costs: Local homebuilders, owners buy into alternative energy sources that pass along savings and reduce fossil footprint

This digital thermostat displays the settings in large numbers. It's on the second floor of the Amerisips Whilden model at The Villages at St. John's Woods, the first neighborhood-style home that the energy-saving Berkeley County homebuilder completed (Leroy Burnell/Staff).

If there's a Charleston area bellwether for crafting energy-saving homes, Steve Bostic would at least be in the running.

The chief of Berkeley County-based Amerisips Homes has spent years promoting his plan to frame houses with an "eco-shell" - incorporating all kinds of energy saving devices up front and then customizing from there, rather than solely relying on one or two features such as solar power or extra insulation.

But the venture started up at a tough time, in the earlier stages of the national housing crisis.

"It was very hard, the last go around," he acknowledges. Even now, "It's a struggle every day."

But Bostic also says the tide is turning, and the business is doing "very, very well."

Amerisips in the past year moved its headquarters to Clements Ferry Road from Johns Island, where the company launched its energy-efficient neighborhood home construction efforts at The Villages at St. John's Woods.

Including custom designs, Amerisips now counts a dozen houses underway or scheduled to start and are on pace for 25 sales a year.

Maybe the biggest boost, however, is still in the works. The venture has entered the permitting stage for opening a 50,000 square foot automated plant that not only manufactures structural insulated panels but many other power-saving items.

The company has markedly increased its home building work in the past year or so, he says, cautioning "it's not the size that counts but the quality."

Still, the plant would surely bump up growth even more. "This factory is designed (on a scale) to build 250 homes a year," Bostic notes.

"I can finally realize the dream started 5 ½-6 years ago," he says.

Amerisips is not the only locally operating company that focuses on lowering power costs, although its offers one of the most comprehensive approaches.

A host of custom and tract-home builders across the Charleston area are promoting "green" living and energy-saving equipment such as tankless water heaters and low "e" windows. A handful of local suppliers and small manufacturers are also championing eco-centric systems from solar panels to geothermal water circulation.

Amerisips continues to evolve, too. It's currently looking at magnesium oxide wallboard as a new product. The company, which opened an operation in Florida, is seeking Dade County, Fla., approval of the product's hurricane resistant strength.

Bostic says he relies on high-end environmental gauges such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Platinum certification to verify energy savings. He also cites the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS: Amerisips houses score at 10 percent of the energy use of an average house compared with 70 percent for the most efficient major home builders, he says.

In another move that should boost sales, Amerisips made a recent adjustment to spread its focus among five home building segments, Bostic says. They are: custom homes; luxury residences priced at $1 million and up; mainstream "national builder type" homes; semi-custom designs; and in a new wrinkle, so-called "micro homes" at 300-900 square feet designed for workforce housing, Bostic says.

"This (micro home building) is probably one of the biggest of all the energy savings," he says.

The Amerisips chief says the segmentation will help the venture diversify. "If you look at homes under $300,000 in the general Charleston area, they make up 65 percent of sales but only half the dollars." By contrast, the seven figure arena accounts for 6 percent of sales but 25 percent in dollars. "We're going to take them all," he says.

To check out eco-friendly homes in the Charleston area, they're spread across Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.

Large homebuilders typically showcase energy saving features at their model homes, which are found throughout the region.

Meanwhile, Amerisips counts energy-efficient custom houses in The Villages at St. John's Woods, Sonny Boy, Headquarters island and Bohicket Creek on Johns Island; Stono Ferry and Poplar Grove in Hollywood; Ripley Light Marina west of the Ashley; Harbor Oaks on James Island; Riverside Drive and Sunnyside Avenue in peninsula Charleston; and Dunes West in Mount Pleasant.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or