Building Science: Energy Department Recognizes Leading Builders

As part of an ongoing series, this article highlights what's going on in the zero-energy-ready home market including the U.S. Department of Energy's partnerships with builders across the country.

By Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect of Building Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy | December 11, 2014
One Sky Homes

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the most significant happenings in the zero-energy-ready home market—covering everything from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) successful industry partnerships with builders to leading technical innovations.


Driving the construction of homes that are zero-energy-ready is a goal of the Energy Department, and whole-house solutions that improve energy performance while increasing comfort, durability, and reducing risk are a top priority. Technical strategies to achieve these high levels of performance include innovations in wall construction (insulation and air sealing) to installing the most efficient HVAC systems, lighting, and appliances. Each year, the Department recognizes some of the nation’s leading builders and their projects with the Housing Innovation Awards. These awards go to the leaders who exhibit the very best in advancing innovative efficiency solutions on the path toward zero-energy-ready homes. The second annual Housing Innovation Awards ceremony was held Sept. 23 in St. Louis at EEBA’s Excellence in Building Conference. The awards recognized leaders from a number of Building Technologies Office residential programs, including the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home and Home Performance with Energy Star.


Since 2008, the Zero Energy Ready Home program has recognized hundreds of leading builders and partners for their achievements in energy efficiency—resulting in over 14,000 energy-efficient homes and millions of dollars in energy savings. The builders highlighted above are only a few who are being recognized by the Housing Innovation Awards for achieving the highest performance levels within the Zero Energy Ready Home Program. Learn more about DOE Zero Energy Ready Home program qualifications at: PB


One Sky Homes, San Jose, Calif.

For One Sky Homes in San Jose, Calif., a true zero-energy-home designation is one of many firsts achieved on this project. The home also was certified to the Passive House Institute standard and was the builder’s first house certified to the high energy performance standards of the Energy Department’s Zero Energy Ready Home program.


The project could be thought of as a science experiment gone well. The 3,198-square-foot, two-story spec home took four years to design and build, more than twice the builder’s typical construction cycle for a custom home, because the company wanted to test several new construction techniques. The home’s 6.4-kW photovoltaic system produces enough electricity to power the home and an electric car with power left over to sell back to the utility.


“It was our intention to take a real building-science approach,” says Allen Gilliland, member of the design-build team at One Sky. “We wanted to measure this building in every way possible, to learn from it, and share what we learned. To everyone’s credit, we were very successful. The data verified that we were plus site energy, and we’re providing the homeowner with a vastly better living experience.”


New Town Builders, Denver, Colo.

New Town Builders has committed to zero-energy-ready construction and hopes to convert all of its product lines to zero-energy-ready construction by the end of next year. “Our goal is to achieve 100-percent U.S. Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready certifications on all of our single-family homes,” says Bill Rectanus, vice president of New Town Builders, a production home building company that plans to build about 150 single-family homes in the Denver area next year.


The builder constructed its first home to DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program criteria in 2013 and has been gradually moving toward certification across the board since then. New Town started building 29 homes in its Solaris community when it learned about the DOE program. Most of the homes are already certified, and another 34 in the next phase of Solaris’ homes will be certified. All are equipped with at least a 2.75-kW photovoltaic system on the roof. In phase two, the goal is to install 5 kW systems and homebuyers have the option to add just a little more to achieve a true net-zero-energy home. In New Town’s Z.E.N. (Zero Energy Now) community, which has 30 homes at or near completion and 33 more homes scheduled for a second phase, all of the homes are truly zero energy. New Town is currently in the planning stages on two additional projects that will both be 100-percent DOE Zero Energy Ready. 



TC Legend Homes, Bellingham, Wash.

This home isn’t TC Legend’s first true zero-energy home, but it has the lowest cost per square foot. The total cost of this 1,055-square-foot home is $151,908 or $144 per square foot (not counting the land). The home needs only a 3.2-kW PV system to meet optimal energy performance, thanks to a highly insulated building envelope and high-performance equipment, which earned the home a certification from the DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program.


“This couple is about to retire,” says builder Ted Clifton, Jr. “They wanted an affordable home with zero energy bills, and we were able to achieve that.”