By Joe Olivieri
Store helps homes become energy efficient
Even now that he has become an entrepreneur, Jason Ballard does not consider himself a businessman.
He studied biology and ecology at Texas A&M University to work in fish and wildlife conservation. He then moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he learned about sustainable building practices.
"The way we [design] our homes uses so much energy and potable water and generates so much waste," he said. "If you really care about saving the planet, you don't need to go out into the woods—you need to look at your home."
Ballard reasoned that customers would buy environmentally friendly products if a business researched them and offered them in a retail format. Ballard's friend Evan Loomis helped secure financing, and the co-founders opened the home-improvement startup TreeHouse on Oct. 22, 2011, in a 25,000-square-foot suite in the Westgate Shopping Center.
TreeHouse does not compete with the big-box home-improvement stores, said Ballard, the company's president.
"There is some overlap in products, but most of [our products are] new and different items or brands you have never heard of before," he said.
For example, TreeHouse may carry the same Nest Learning Thermostat that The Home Depot and Lowe's do, but it also stocks the energy-efficient Haiku ceiling fan.
In addition to selling the products, TreeHouse offers services to help customers understand and install what they have bought. The store offers energy audits and an interior designer's services.
"When people hear that they can make their homes energy-efficient, they either think of some sleek, ultramodern home or some kind of hobbit hole," he said. "We have advised neighbors who have homes that were built in the 1990s or the 1970s, and they now have net zero-energy homes. They are producing energy now."
So far TreeHouse's biggest supporters have been homeowners and do-it-yourselfers, Ballard said.
He takes pride in his knowledgeable 25-person staff.
"We ask our team members to think about and explain [eco-friendly building topics] at a college and graduate level," he said.
Ballard said what excites him is being able to bring products to customers and having a net positive effect on the world.
"It's just rewarding to be a part of that," he said.
TreeHouse tries to make it simple for residents to install solar panels on their homes, co-founder and President Jason Ballard said. TreeHouse coordinates site assessments, design, permitting, rebating and installation.
TreeHouse offers financing to encourage customers to sign up. A solar panel financing package costs no money down and has a 2.99 percent interest rate over the course of the loan.
The store's most popular package costs $90 a month. TreeHouse claims that by using the panels, customers will typically reduce their monthly power bills by $100 or more.
TreeHouse's most popular items are its solar panels, lighting and flooring, co-founder and President Jason Ballard said.
"Customers are sometimes dragging their contractors into the store, asking them to use these products," he said. "Contractors like us, but they are not early adopters."
TreeHouse also stocks materials for rainwater harvesting, raising chickens and beekeeping—popular topics in the Austin area.
For rainwater harvesting, TreeHouse stocks wooden and polyethylene rain barrels, pumps and accessories.