Extreme Efficiency. This rendering shows the net-zero energy model home that Addison Homes is showcasing at its 16-lot Trailside community in Greenville, S.C.

Sometime this month, Addison Homes, a semi-custom on-your-lot builder, expects to break ground on Trailside, a 16-home neighborhood that will be Addison’s first subdivision development. As important, it will be the first community in Greenville, S.C. built to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Challenge Home standards for energy efficiency, and the first community in the country built to ActiveHouse standards for air quality, comfort, and durability.

The model house that Addison Homes is showcasing at Trailside is zero net energy, meaning that it creates as much energy as it consumes. Todd Usher, Addison’s president, tells Builder that zero net energy is an option that homebuyers can choose. “We made the model zero energy to show how it can be achieved” at an affordable price.

A system to build by. Trailside is a major leap forward for Addison Homes, which Usher launched in 2001 after being laid off from his job at a local chemical company. Over the previous five years, Usher, who has a general contractor’s license, was rehabbing rental properties and flipping for-sale homes on the side. His goal was to run his own business, and his being laid off, in retrospect, “was the kick in the pants I needed” to start his homebuilding operation.

The first new home Addison worked on was a bank-owned property destroyed by fire that he tore down and rebuilt. Having come from the highly regimented chemicals industry, Usher recalls his frustration at housing’s lack of construction standards. That was until he attended a two-day training seminar in 2003 conducted by EarthCraft, the green building standard developed four years earlier by the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association and Southface.

“This was the quality system we had been looking for,” says Usher, who embraced its high-performance construction techniques.

Since then, all Addison’s homes have been built to Energy Star, EarthCraft, or DOE Challenge Home standards.

Addison’s on-your-lot houses range from 2,500 to 3,000 square feet, excluding basement space that is usually included. The homes are priced from $350,000 to $375,000 (excluding land). Trailside, by comparison, will feature smaller homes—from 1,800 to 3,000 square feet—priced from $250,000 to around $300,000. (Usher says Addison Homes paid between $45,000 and $50,000 per finished lot, which is worked into the sales price.)

Usher says that building high-performance products at a lower price point was not that big a deal. “We didn’t have to sacrifice cost and labor because [energy efficiency] is already spec’d in at the beginning,” he explains.

The street orientation at Trailside is North-South, so the houses will get plenty of sun exposure. Each house will be solar-ready, and Addison is in discussion with a number of solar-panel providers. (Usher points out that solar can be a harder sell in South Carolina because rebates there “are decent but not great.”)

Expansion on the horizon. While Addison Homes will continue to build on-your-lot homes, Usher says he is moving towards a “portfolio” of fewer house plans, and Trailside is the template for future growth. “We decided that this is where we needed to be to sell a differentiated product and to control our own destiny,” says Usher.

He hopes to build 30 to 40 homes per year by this time in 2014. To increase its construction velocity, Addison will need to add some production, estimating, and CAD employees. It also might need to explore markets beyond its current radius, which is about 90 minutes from its headquarters in Greer, S.C. That search eventually might lead Addison into an adjoining state.

Usher acknowledges that finding finished lots locally will require “beating the bushes harder,” especially because regional builders such as Legendary Communities and Crown Communities have moved into South Carolina “and have bought up just about every available finished lot.”

John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Greenville, SC, Atlanta, GA.