Last year, Centex Corp. announced that in 2009 it would begin rolling out, market by market, its Centex Energy Advantage, a standard package of low-E windows, insulation, high-efficiency HVAC systems, energy-saving appliances, plumbing and lighting, and an energy monitor. Since then, the housing market has deteriorated further and at this writing shows no promise of turning around any time soon.

Centex has nevertheless pressed on and in the early months of the year introduced the program in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., and Houston and Austin, Texas. Now, as regular readers of this column know, I'm no tree hugger. But I think anything that makes a house more comfortable while saving the homeowner money is a worthwhile proposition. I'll leave the carbon footprint claptrap to others.

Centex deserves credit for sticking with the rollout, however, because it does add to the cost of building, and right now neither Centex nor any other builder is in a position to be raising prices. But alas, sometimes sticking to a plan in spite of adverse conditions pays off.

According to Stephen Haines, director of sales and marketing for Centex in Houston, the company had already sold between 120 and 130 Energy Advantage homes in Houston alone at the time this column was written in late February. In this housing market, that ain't bad.

"Homes are no longer a commodity," says Haines. "We want to stand out in their [home buyers'] minds as someone who can save them money after they buy the house."

That's music to my (and presumably their) ears, but for those carbon footprint trackers out there, the company has loads of data to establish its "green" bona fides. It has calculated that the first group of Energy Advantage homes under construction in the Houston area will save 110 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in their first year of occupancy, compared to homes built under the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code. The number in Raleigh is 30 metric tons; in Charlotte, 25 metric tons; and in Austin, a whopping 250 metric tons.

The package varies slightly by region. In Raleigh, for example, there's R-49 attic insulation and no radiant barrier; there's a 14-SEER Lennox HVAC system and a Viega Manabloc water-conserving plumbing system in Austin. The design of the particular home plays a part in the selection of the package.

Specifically, the package in Houston includes a wireless energy monitor that provides real-time data on energy usage, Whirlpool or Kitchen Aid Energy Star-certified appliances, a Lennox high-efficiency HVAC system with programmable thermostats, low-E windows, R-38 insulation and radiant barrier in the attic, and CFL lighting in high-traffic areas.

"Overall, we've seen up to a 22 percent total savings compared to homes built to the most common standard," says Haines. (That 22 percent comes from an analysis by the National Association of Home Builders Research Center, compared with the cost of running a home built to the aforementioned 2006 code.)

Again, that's not bad, especially for homes that can be had for as little as less than $100,000 (in King Lakes in Katy, Texas, outside Houston, that is). And with a cycle time of 72 work days per home, there can be a lot more of them made available if buyers step up.

Which, according to Haines, they are doing. "We've seen a year-over-year increase in sales," he says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX.