Courtesy Craftmark Group

A great pop song needs a hook—a catchy chorus, a rocking beat, or a memorable lyric—to set it apart from the competition. New homes are no different. Every builder needs to find a message that resonates, with the hope that prospective buyers just can’t shake it from their heads. Ken Malm, president of Craftmark Group, one of the largest private builders in the Washington, D.C., market, believes that green building is that hook. In the last six months, he rewrote his product specs, changed his construction practices, aligned with a third-party testing group, recorded a television show, and created a radio ad—all with the intention of becoming known as Washington’s best-known green builder.

The McLean, Va.–based company offers free Energy Star certification at nine Maryland and Northern Virginia communities. So far, buyers like what they hear.

“I don’t believe that people are ready to pay more for green building,” acknowledges Malm, who estimates the series of product and construction changes he implemented will add $1,200 to $8,000 per house, depending on its size. “But it may impact their buying decision … . The real benefit is when people go to sell their house. They will be favorably competing with gas guzzlers.”

Malm, whose company has sold 450 homes annually on average over the last 10 years and expects to sell 240 this year, looked at all the green building program alternatives. He decided to lead with energy efficiency, since that holds the potential to reduce operating costs for home buyers, and hooked up with Energy Star to provide credibility. “I really like the idea of third-party inspection,” says Malm.

Brochures tout the benefits of meeting strict EPA energy-efficiency guidelines. Each home is stringently tested for air infiltration and HVAC system performance, includes Energy Star appliances that use at least 41 percent less energy than minimum federal standards, and employs high-efficiency heating and cooling.

The biggest cost increase, Malm says, comes from the use of high-performance windows. Craftmark has also stepped up the insulation and air infiltration details in its homes.

“We were already doing many of the things required by the Energy Star program. But now we’re sweating a few more details,” says Malm, noting that the company now fills the interior of band boards with spray foam and provides draft stopping on attic knee walls.

One of the most exciting features of the program, from Malm’s perspective, is the company’s program to recycle construction debris. His long-time hauler found a way to economically take debris from the site, sort it offsite, and recycle the material.

Craftmark, which builds under the names Craftmark and Craftstar, ran local radio ads touting the program this fall. The spots invite people to lower their utility bills while “doing the right thing and give your whole family a healthier, more rewarding life in a Craftmark home.”

The company also invested in a television show, “The Savvy Homebuyer Show,” which aired this fall on a local CBS affiliate. You can watch it on the builder’s Web site.

The show begins with an architectural tour of Craftmark’s homes and closes with an interview with Malm about green building. He emphasizes the company’s use of recycled material in wood trusses, carpet, and exterior trim. He talks about his efforts to source local material to cut down on energy use in transportation. He notes that his homes use low-VOC materials and routinely pump in fresh air.

“All these little things we do result in less of a carbon footprint and less energy use,” says Malm, adding that he incorporated almost all of them into the last home he built for himself.

Though he has a head start, Malm fully expects competitors to step up their green marketing efforts in months to come. For that reason, he’s already exploring a potential higher ground. “We’re examining the LEED for homes standards to see if we can do one of those,” he says.

The following Craftmark communities offer free Energy Star Certification:

Villages of Waxpool
Crooked Creek
Morris Farm

Oak Creek Club
Stratford II
Clarksburg Village
Park Ridge
Damascus Overlook
Leaman Farm

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.