Oklahoma builder Vernon McCown believes his company, Ideal Homes, has a two-year window (specifically, a low-E, dual-paned vinyl window) before the rest of the market catches up with its evolving commitment to building energy-efficient homes. “We always need to improve and innovate to stay ahead of the ‘me-toos' in the market,” he says.

To maintain its leadership position regarding energy efficiency, Ideal Homes partnered with the Engineered for Life (EfL) program offered by U.S. GreenFiber and affiliated with the federal Building America program to guarantee energy bills for its new single-family homes. Through third-party verification, including plan checks and blower-door tests, all homes enrolled in the program are required to meet energy-use performance guidelines set by the EfL program. That performance is then calculated as an energy cost based on local utility rates, which, in turn, is used for the guarantee. One Ideal Homes plan, for instance, ensures an average energy bill of $47 per month over 13 months; if the actual average exceeds that amount, EfL pays the difference. “The bigger issue is that it gives home buyers peace of mind and legitimizes our energy performance claims,” says McCown.

Since joining the EfL in mid-2002, Ideal Homes has several hundred units enrolled ... and no claims against the guarantee. Nationally, the EfL program counts nearly 8,000 homes enrolled, with less than 1 percent justifying claims for reimbursement. Even with a 5 percent to 10 percent price premium over the competition to reflect the upgraded EfL specs (among others initiated by the builder independently), Ideal Homes closed 449 units, boosted sales growth by 25 percent, and set a company record for gross margin in 2003.

Campaign Details Program: Home energy-use guarantee; Builder/Developer: Ideal Homes, Oklahoma City, Okla.;Cost: $250 for homes up to 2,500 square feet, and $0.10 per square foot thereafter; additional fees may apply for independent testing and verification