About 25 years ago, Ideal Homes found success by replacing its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) 8 air conditioning unit in new homes with a SEER 10. Back then, it wasn’t difficult to find a product that reduced energy consumption and set you apart from the competition.
Now, with Energy Star, code updates, and a proliferation of energy-efficient products, it’s not hard for a builder to call itself “green.” But that makes it a lot tougher for Norman, OK-based Ideal to distinguish itself from local competitors like Yukon, OK-based Home Creations and national builders like Ft. Worth, Texas-based D.R. Horton.
“We have been the largest builder in the state of Oklahoma for years,” says Vernon McKown, president of Ideal. “When we went to Energy Star, our whole market went Energy Star.”
Compounding this dilemma is that McKown is finding it harder to add products that get a real bang for the buck in energy efficiency. He’s basically bumping up against a green ceiling.
“When we look at integrating a new building product to raise our HERS [Home Energy Rating System] score, we look at how many dollars that costs to get value for our customers,” McKown says. “We’re hitting the spot that I’d call the diminishing returns. It’s harder to find stuff. The law of diminishing returns has been in the forefront of our decision-making for the last five years.”
But that doesn’t mean the company has given up on finding innovative ways to shave its HERS score for a minimal cost. “We’re constantly looking,” he says.
After its success replacing the SEER 8 air conditioner, McKown was eager to add more green-building accomplishments to his resume. The Energy Star program offered a good opportunity. When the program was adopted nationally in 1997, Ideal built a full Energy Star home for $89,000 when others were going for more than $500,000.
In 2000, Ideal did a couple of test homes for the Department of Energy under the Build America program. After that, it adopted the Environments for Living (EFL) program for guaranteed utilities, pledging to reduce the heating and cooling usage of a home below a certain threshold.
“We’ve built thousands of homes on that guarantee and never had to pay anybody,” McKown says. “We’ve gotten great feedback from home owners about how high-performance our homes are.”
As the single-family market crested and then collapsed in the recession, Ideal naturally saw its closings decline. It fell from a peak of 522 closings in 2006 to 278 in 2009. While this was happening, Ideal was still pushing the envelope, building a couple of solar homes during the recession without much fanfare. The relatively new co-op trial program with CADDO Electric Corporative to ground-source heat pumps in certain communities may have more potential.
“Those neighborhoods didn’t double sales or anything, but it has definitely been popular,” McKown says. “Ground-source heat is the most common energy upgrade. It has been something that people are interested in and looking to try to do.”
Ideal’s next frontier is beyond the home. It’s the entire community.
“Now we're working with a lot of other components around neighborhood lifestyle and more serious-type amenities in our neighborhoods,” he says.
While those innovations are made outside of the home, they’re still consistent with what has made Ideal, which climbed back to 346 closing in 2013, a market leader in Oklahoma for a quarter of a century.
“Energy efficiency is a big part of what we do,” McKown says.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX.