Tom Perry has been a homebuilder since 1988, but in 2011 he joined two partners in creating New Leaf Design based in Hinesburg. The partnership lasted until 2015 when the other two went their separate ways, but Perry continues to provide building and remodeling work for clients from as far afield as Randolph, Shoreham, Warren, the Champlain Islands, and Essex, N.Y.
Perry has three employees and during the busy months, he often takes on extra help. “I’ve always wanted to build a business that was small and doing what we do best and loving what we do,” he said, “but it’s been challenging.” In 1988, Perry purchased an existing business called Energy Wise Buildesign, which specialized in super-insulated houses.
“That was pretty cutting-edge at the time,” he recalls. “They had a system that worked really well and I’ve learned a lot about building science since then.”
Perry subsequently took an eight-day course sponsored by Efficiency Vermont. “I thought I knew everything,” he said, “but my jaw dropped when I discovered how much I didn’t know.” Perry said that every year, energy efficiency specialists go to conferences where they end up unlearning 10% of what they’ve learned previously.
“That’s just science,” he said. “There aren’t radical shifts or transformations. There is just a constant refining of the knowledge.”
Perry is particularly proud of a net-zero home that he built in South Hero. He believes that in addition to its use for new structures, net-zero remodeling is an area with a great deal of potential, particularly when air source heat pumps are paired with energy retrofitting.
Last year Perry took part in a statewide program called Zero Energy Now, which provided incentives for people to retrofit their homes using heat pumps and renewable energy sources. The incentives for that program have been reduced and are now restricted to the installation of photovoltaics.
Perry also works with the Home Performance with Energy Star Program, which is sponsored by the EPA and has been embraced by Efficiency Vermont. The goal is to raise the efficiency of existing building and home stock in the state.
This work goes along with Perry’s design philosophy, which holds that the needs of the building site, local environment, and global environment should all be considered together with the needs of the client.
Perry said he does more retrofitting than new building. “What I like about remodeling,” he said, “is that you take something that has become dull and mundane and transform it, which is quite different from scrapping it altogether.” Perry realizes there may be some confusion regarding New Leaf Design since the word “build” is not in the company name.
“I like the idea of design and intent,” he said. “I’m fascinated by that process because it tends to be transformative. If it’s not transformative, it’s not succeeding the way it should.”
Perry said his goal is to open up a client’s imagination.
“I like to get them beyond what they were originally thinking,” he said. Although monetary restraints may scale projects back, he considers it vital for clients to enlarge the scope of their vision. “It’s important,” he said, “to start by looking for something beyond what they were expecting.”