Winton/Flair/Accent Homes clearly believes in the federal Energy Star program.

Every house this builder does, whether it sells for $93,950 or $2.5 million, is certified as an Energy Star house. The El Paso, Texas-based company's 17,000-square-foot headquarters is also being built with the goal of earning an Energy Star rating. Every corporate marketing document, from business cards to its Web site, bears the Energy Star logo. Every salesperson and local real estate agent that works with Winton/Flair/Accent is educated about Energy Star.

Such commitment recently earned Winton/Flair/Accent Homes, which also builds in New Mexico, its second Energy Star award for Sustained Excellence. The effort has also paid off in sales for the company, which does approximately 350 homes annually.

“Let’s put it like this,” said vice president Mark Dyer. “For the last two months we have set record sales for this company.” And the higher efficiency ratings for the homes are one reason why.”

“The public is getting more and more educated,” Dyer continued. “They realize that if they pay $3,000 more for that house, [that investment is] going to pay itself back within a short period of time, not to mention the increased comfort and health from living in the house.”

Winton/Flair/Accent began building Energy Star certified houses six years ago after deciding the money-saving attributes would be important to buyers over time as energy costs climbed in the Southwest. Since, it has won five annual Energy Star awards.

Dyer became a personal believer in the advantages after recently moving into a 1,861-square-foot home built by the company. His first full-month gas bill, for January, one the area’s coldest months, was $35.

Ivey Residential, in Augusta, Ga., is another 2010 winner of Energy Star’s Sustained Excellence award.

Ivey Residential’s commitment to build every one of its houses to Energy Star certification had more to do with a commitment to quality than sales, said Matt Ivey, one of the company’s owners. “We just felt it was a better way to build a home," he said.

Ivey, which began building Energy Star homes in 2006 and builds about 70 production and custom houses annually, offers a full spectrum of green upgrades beyond Energy Star requirements for buyers who are interested in even more energy- and/or earth-saving options.

“We try to let the consumer choose what they want in their house, how they want to spend their money,” Ivey said. “What we found is our consumers who are looking for green features know what they are looking for.”

For other customers, Ivey does his best to educate them about the advantages of green construction by using educational vignettes in its model homes to show what’s inside the walls and how it all works together as well as other educational materials. “We are not the low-cost leader in our market and so we try to educate buyers on how we build our houses and how it’s different,” Ivey explained.

Many consumers opt to increase their home's insulation beyond the basic Energy Star rating, even adding radiant barriers in the attics, which is a relatively low-cost addition. But convincing  today's budget-conscious consumers spend extra on more efficient--but sometimes more costly--green extras such as a higher-efficient water heater is a harder sell. More obvious upgrades such as granite countertops often win out over additional green features. “People still want what they want inside the house,” Ivey said.

The new, tougher and more costly Energy Star program on the horizon has Ivey wondering if the company can continue to build every home under the program and still keep prices low enough to sell in its Augusta and Aiken, S.C., markets. “We are just going to see how it works out,” he said.

Ivey and Winton/Flair/Accent were the only two for-profit home building winners in the Energy Star awards' Sustained Excellence: new home construction category. The Energy Star program also honored the following new-home builders for "excellence in Energy Star promotion": HearthStone Homes of Omaha, Neb.; KB Home, M/I Homes, On Top of the World Communities in Ocala, Fla.; and Richmond American Homes. Several affordable housing providers also received awards. (See sidebar below for more details.)

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER and BIG BUILDERmagazines.

2010 Energy Star Award-Winning Home Builders

A number of other builders were also honored for their involvement in the Energy Star program.

Excellence in Energy Star Promotion awards were given to:

HearthStone Homes
Omaha, Neb.
HearthStone Homes, Nebraska’s largest home builder, builds more than 800 houses a year, all of which have the Energy Star rating. The company was honored for building 100% Energy Star products, for developing an Energy Star utility bill guarantee program that assures buyers that their utility bills will not exceed a predetermined level, and for increasing the number of qualified homes built in 2009 by 30%.

KB Home
Los Angeles, Calif.
KB Home built more than 5,000 Energy Star qualified homes in 2009, for a total of 53,000 since joining the program in 2001. The company was honored for integrating the Energy Star message into its marketing and sales process through both electronic and print media as well as for training its staff on the benefits and features of Energy Star homes and products through its My Home My Earth online training course. It also was noted for including educational displays in all its sales offices that highlight the value of Energy Star homes as well as its other environmentally friendly products.

M/I Homes
Columbus, Ohio
M/I Homes was honored for committing to build all its homes to the Energy Star ratings as a way to differentiate itself from competitors. M/I offers a personal construction supervisor to work with buyers throughout the building process and a 30-year transferable structural warranty and new home orientation. The company also was noted for displaying Energy Star on its web site, in sales centers, and on selling boards as well as for distributing brochures highlighting the environmental and economic benefits with the program.

On Top of the World Communities
Ocala, Fla.
On Top of the World Communities builds all its homes to Energy Star standards. It also trains its sales team on the environmental and financial benefits of the program by providing them with brochures detailing Energy Star features and benefits, a construction diagram and a checklist for buyers to compare its qualified homes with those of other builders. It was also given recognition for showcasing the program in its new model home center and organizing an “It’s So Easy Being Green” consumer expo at the grand opening. It also advertises detailed information on the benefits of owning an Energy Star Home, detailing energy cost savings and the value of independent third-party testing of the homes.

Richmond American Homes
Denver, Colo.
Richmond American Homes also committed to build all its homes to the Energy Star standards. It also was recognized for providing all salespeople with a laminated marketing tool displaying the image of a house detailing the many features in the homes. It also displays the Energy Star mark on its materials and trains staff, including field staff and trade partners on the processes. The company has built more than 865 Energy Star homes in 2009 for a total of 4,035 since 2000.

Winners in the Affordable Home Category

Houston Habitat for Humanity
Houston, Texas
Houston Habitat for Humanity built all its 84 homes to the standards in 2009, giving the company a total of 500 qualified homes since 2003.

PK Management
Richmond Heights, Ohio
The national management company, which specializes in Section 8 affordable housing properties and low-income housing tax credit properties, ensured all housing under its management are energy-efficient. Key accomplishments include retrofitting common areas and offices with compact fluorescent bulbs, replacing vending machines with Energy Star qualified products, installing Energy Star qualified food cabinets, commercial freezers and refrigerators, and conducing comprehensive energy audits on its properties to develop a detailed energy reduction plan.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA, Columbus, OH.