In Silver Spring, Md., a confluence of circumstance and a good deal of ingenuity are producing a community of luxury homes that achieve a 40 percent gain in energy efficiency primarily through the design and construction of the building envelope.

That results in a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score of between 53 and 54, nearly halfway to the DOE's goal of routine zero-energy home construction by 2030.

The builder is Camberley Homes, a unit of Winchester Homes, which is a unit of Weyerhaeuser Corp. There are some built-in advantages to that, particularly when building an energy-efficient house, not the least of which is that Weyerhaeuser's iLevel building and framing system allows for such essentials as running HVAC lines through conditioned space as well as cutting lumber to fit, minimizing waste, and precutting for electrical and plumbing lines.

What's particularly interesting about these homes, however, is that they just sort of happened. As Steve Nardella, senior vice president of operations for Winchester in Bethesda, Md., puts it, “Back during the boom years, we were getting pushed to extreme levels of customization through our signature ‘your home, your way' process.”

Back then, the company specialized in first move-up and second move-up single-family attached and detached housing. Camberley was established in 2005 to address the high-end market, as Nardella says, to create a “customized home buying and home building experience in a production environment.”

Then came the crash.

Winchester was redeveloping an old country club in Silver Spring, along with townhouse and detached homes, called Poplar Run. The average Winchester home at that time was running 3,200 to 3,600 square feet. But demand was growing for smaller homes. So Camberley came up with the notion of “offering a smaller but well-appointed home with high finish and trim and flexible room designs.” The homes would start at just over 2,500 square feet.

At the time, the DOE and the NAHB were casting about for a builder to take on a “Building America/Builders Challenge Home.” After careful consideration Camberley signed on.

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE: Camberley Homes' first home in its energy-efficient Centennial Collection in Poplar Run in Silver Spring, Md., drew nearly 1,000 lookers when it opened in June.

Camberley was going to build only a pilot home, but, figuring stricter building energy codes were sure to come, the single-home concept grew. “We're going to build 100 homes [in Poplar Run],” promises Nardella. It has been dubbed the Centennial Collection. The first home opened in June, when it drew nearly 1,000 lookers.

The home was designed in conjunction with DOE and NAHB Research Center engineers as well as trade partners. “It was a whole house system approach from the ground up,” says Nardella. Weyerhaeuser's iLevel was involved from the start.

The result is a mix of Craftsman, bungalow, and neo-classical Victorian homes built 2 by 6/24 inches on center, stiffer floor systems with 1/8-inch thicker floor decking, with blown-in insulation, gasket-sealed foundations, low-VOC and water-based latex finishes, spray foam sealant, argon-filled low-E glass, and Hardie Board exteriors, which, combined with insulation, offer a 60 percent boost in exterior insulating efficiency.

The Centennial Collection will start at $575,000 for a 2,500-square-foot home on a 5,000-square-foot lot with a detached two-car garage. The sales price premium involved with the smaller well-appointed space, exterior and interior architectural finish and detail, and in achieving the 40 percent-plus energy-efficiency boost is about $20 per foot, or about 10 percent more than the larger traditional Winchester line-up in the Poplar Run community. “It's really not that expensive,” says Nardella. “We've baked it into the line.”