It’s hard to ignore the juggernaut that the energy-efficient green construction has become in the home building industry, but it’s also difficult not to seem traumatized by the added cost that’s often associated with it. “The green thing gets a lot of press ... but there aren’t a lot of folks that are fully equipped to build efficiently," observes Jeremy Graves, a builder in South Carolina that is determined to do just that. His company, FirstCoast Homes, bucks the "green costs more" trend, managing to build Energy Star-rated homes that are 20% to 30% more efficient than standard homes at a cost of just $1,000 more per house than the builder's previous methods.

Based in Charleston, S.C., FirstCoast is a five-year-old company that builds primarily starter homes and first-time move-up product. Prices are on the low end, starting at $129,000 and only reaching as high as $209,000, but this does not prevent the company from building for efficiency. Sensing that affordable energy-efficient construction could be the future of home building, the company in 2007, announced a plan to build only Energy Star-qualified homes.

“One of the most important things we have to deal with today is our energy usage,” explains Graves, the company president. “I decided that it was time to put our money where our mouth is and bring this to market.” Reducing energy consumption in this country is an important issue, he says, because buildings account for almost 40% of the demand.

To increase the energy efficiency of its homes, FirstCoast now builds every home with effective insulation, high-performance windows, sealed ducts, efficient heating and cooling systems, and energy-efficient appliances. Specifically, that means the company upgraded to Johns Manville insulation at R-13 for walls and R-30 for ceilings, high-performance low-E windows, Comfortmaker high-efficiency 14 SEER heat pumps, and Energy Star-rated Whirlpool appliances, among other moves. It also conducts duct blaster and blower tests on all homes to ensure there are no leaks.

These practices, the builder says, create energy-efficient homes, which help protect the environment by reducing air pollution because lower demand for energy equates to less greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But even more important than the "why" behind FirstCoast's green efforts is the "how," since the builder has been able to accomplish this at relatively low price points, simply by making small changes to its processes and procedures. Curious? So were we. Here are FirstCoast's five strategies for building Energy Star rated homes that make going green affordable for buyers and builders alike.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Charleston, SC.