Gettysburg builder wins Department of Energy award for custom Westminster house

Dan Swisher has been disabled since a rope swing accident left him partially paralyzed more than 20 years ago.

He met his wife Suzanne while he was in shock trauma following the accident. Well, really, she met his family first, Dan said, as he was mostly unconscious.


She reached out to him well after he left the hospital. They fell in love and started a life together.

They occupied a big home until their children grew up, at which point Dan and Suzanne wanted to downsize. Their previous residence was also not wheelchair friendly — Dan had to muscle his chair up and down ramps to enter and exit.

“Going down was easy,” Suzanne told the Times. “But pushing uphill was difficult, especially when carrying packages.”

That’s a memory from a past life now that the couple are proud owners and residents of a High Performance Homes, LLC custom-built home in Westminster. They solicited the services of the Gettysburg-based company to make their down-sized dream home.

Carroll County has become the first county in Maryland to be designated “SolSmart Silver” for advancing solar energy growth, the Environmental Advisory Council told the Board of County Commissioners this week. They also delivered a report on Community Solar Energy Generating Systems, CSEGS,..

An experienced realtor, Dan knew the company. It carried reputation for building innovative homes.

“I heard about HPH and visited their site in Gettysburg,” he said. “We were so impressed at that point, we set up a meeting.”

They came up with a set of criteria for their next home. It had to be smaller, exceptionally energy efficient and wheelchair friendly. It had to be the place they could remain for the rest of their lives. Dan specializes in Aging-in-Place real estate.

The couple’s new digs check all the boxes. They’re thrilled with what the Pennsylvania-based builders came up with.


As it turns out, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies office is too.

The DOE decorated High Performance Homes’ Westminster work, dubbed the Rose Acres Project, as the best custom built home in its 2018 Housing Innovation Awards.

Rose Acres is a zero-threshold home — no unruly ramps or stairs.

It also features what High Performance Homes calls Zero Energy Ready technology. The home is tightly insulated, dons sleek solar shingles and employs geothermal heating and air conditioning.

“Certainly that was important to us, the carbon footprint,” Dan said. “But mainly just having the lower utility bills than our previous home.”

Solar tiles are a point of pride for Dan, he said. “I didn’t like the thick solar panels that you see so often.”


Builders replaced roof shingles with small solar tiles on a portion of the roof, said Kiere DeGrandchamp, head of construction at High Performance Homes. “They stick up a quarter of an inch versus three or four inches like a regular rack and mount system. It doesn’t just stick up into your face.

“It’s aesthetically pleasing and very efficient.”

The solar energy contingent utilized in the Swisher’s home, DeGrandchamp explained, reduces energy bills by about 75 percent.

“It’s an amazing savings,” Dan said proudly.

The unique construction also provides for comfortable temperatures year round.

It’s a ground-up concept. Beneath the foundation slab is a layer of insulation that equates to roughly 40 inches of dirt, DeGrandchamp said. Furthermore the basement walls are thickly insulated.

“It gives the house a little bit of a head start and advantage, where it’s not trying to come from ground temperatures, starting being warmed up a little bit,” the construction director said.

The insulation for Rose Acres far exceeds spec.

“They’re in a giant a giant blanket,” DeGrandchamp said. “It just hugs the whole house.”

It comes down to preventing the flow of air in and out of the house.

“We make it super super air tight,” he said. “We do a test to ensure the airtightness of it. Code is three air exchanges per hour, their house came in at one air exchange per hour, which is kind of amazing… so the HVAC doesn’t have to work as hard.”

The Swishers have noticed.

“It’s very cozy that way,” Dan said. “There’s no cold spots in the house in the winter.”

Added insulate layers have proved to be an efficient pest control.

“Despite being in a corn field and surrounded by farm land,” Suzanne said, “we have not had one mouse.”

Pest control and insulation is one thing, hot water on command is an added bonus.

The Swishers can click a button, which connects to a recirculating pump, right before they get into the shower, DeGrandchamp said, “and it’ll take all the water that’s been sitting in the pipe overnight and it’ll dump it, and it’ll bring hot water fresh up to the source” so that they instantly have the temperature they want, “without having to run and run and run.

“Most people waste between 10 and 20,000 gallons a year just getting their shower to the temperature they desire.”

The couple moved into the pristine home April 1, 2017. They’ve become comfortable. Dan and Suzanne both work from home, and while they’ve positioned their offices at opposite ends of the house, they spend most of their time in a compact living area.

Rose Acres is complete with many customizations to allow Dan easy access to appliances and storage.

Dan regularly rolls up to the electric fire place. It’s a simple pleasure, but one isn’t possible for many who are bound to wheelchairs. Most fireplaces feature an elevated hearth — a lip that would halt wheels in their tracks.

The Swisher’s is raised and allows for Dan to cozy on up.