When builder Mike Scarlett signed on to participate in the HBA of Greater Dallas Green Built Parade of Homes, which debuted in September, he had never so much as built an Energy Star house. But he rose to the challenge, hiring a consultant to help him decode such eco-measures as spray-foam insulation, dual-flush toilets, and the use of recycled materials.

Scarlett, owner of Scarlett Custom Homes in Frisco, Texas, was one of seven builders who showcased Parade homes that feature key building techniques from the Green Built North Texas program. The new certification program, scheduled for rollout in early 2008, is a regional adaptation of NAHB’s Model Green Home Building Guidelines and requires builders to implement a minimum of 38 components from six categories, ranging from energy and water efficiency to recycling and indoor air quality.

“The point was not so much to certify the homes as to show the public the components of our program,” says Phil Crone, government relations specialist at the HBA of Greater Dallas. “These builders were the guinea pigs to see how the construction protocol works, from the time the slab is poured until the time the keys are handed over to the owner.”

Scarlett admits the learning curve was steep. Even after he thought he’d done everything right, his spectacular country retreat failed the initial blower-door test for energy efficiency. Although the problems were easily remedied, the experience was an eye-opener. “I had won all these awards for craftsmanship. I had a nice, solid-looking home,” Scarlett says. “But going through the attic with an infrared camera, I could see spots that were leaking air or where the foam wasn’t thick enough.”

As it turned out, there were three main trouble spots: a faulty window, a leaky attic access door, and a piece of Icynene foam insulation that the electrician had displaced.

For veteran green builders like Argyle, Texas–based Derecor Homes, which has been building Energy Star–certified homes for about five years, the Parade house offered a chance to research emerging materials. Derecor’s 3,384-square-foot Parade home was the first in the United States to use Demilec’s Sealection 800 Agribalance, a spray-on insulation that is 20% renewable vegetable oil. The builder applied it to the underside of the roof sheathing to seal the attic containing ductwork and HVAC units, ensuring that the temperature difference between attic and living spaces is never more than 10 to 15 degrees.

Derecor Homes owner Diane DeSimone is also a fan of structural insulated panels (SIPs), which she estimates cost roughly 10% more than 2x4s and fiberglass batts. “If you’re looking at 2x6 framing with foam insulation, the SIPs are similar in price, but a better product,” she says. “What I love about SIPs is that you’ve improved the insulation value with less lumber and less waste. The panels come on a truck, and you put them together like a big jigsaw puzzle, yet you can easily make changes on-site. And because everything starts out straight and square, the interior build-out is much easier.”

Like DeSimone, Beaver Builders owner Donny Mack of Sango, Texas, is experienced in Energy Star standards, so his Parade home incorporates the usual features that add up to a snug building envelope—2x6 exterior walls with spray-foam insulation and a ½-inch foam radiant barrier, plus 5/8-inch Sheetrock and foam in the garage walls and ceiling to block auto emissions.

But this time around, he added rainwater harvesting to his green repertoire. Mack spent $3,700 on an off-the-shelf, 1,700-gallon underground tank that ties into the home’s landscape irrigation system. “It has an electronic valve, so that when the cistern is empty, the irrigation will automatically run off of city water,” Mack explains, adding that he wanted to show homeowners an alternative to the “big, ugly rain barrels that sit on the ground.”

John Spencer of John Spencer Custom Homes in Allen, Texas, also had aesthetics in mind when he chose the recycled materials in his 3,550-square-foot house and 737-square-foot guest cabana. Among them are a kitchen countertop made from crushed glass and an oil drum repurposed as a whimsical bath sink base.

“Recycled materials are great, but I think it’s more of a personal decorative choice,” says Spencer. “Our buyers are more concerned with energy efficiency.” Although he’s used foam insulation selectively in the past, this is the first time he also included radiant housewrap, and he’s eager to compare the utility bills with his standard homes. “The foam runs probably three to four times more on cost, so it’s still pretty expensive,” he says.

The continuing challenge, of course, is determining how much upgrading the market will bear. Scarlett estimates the Green Built measures cost him an extra $25,000. He sees it as an investment in the future—his own and his clients’.

“Several years ago, insulation would never have come up in the dream-home discussion,” he says. “Now I’m seeing that for people selling their homes 10 years from now, it might be pretty critical to have these energy upgrades.”

Cheryl Weber is a freelance writer in Lancaster, Pa.

Derecor Homes

Structural Insulated Panels

SIPs offer superior thermal performance while using less lumber and generating less construction waste than stick framing, and they’re rated for 164-mph winds. Derecor Homes submitted the house plans to EZ-Build Systems, which engineered the SIPs and lumber packages in tandem with SIPs manufacturer R-Control. EZ-Build: 888.755.2539. www.ez-build.com. Circle 352. R-Control: 800.255.0176. www.r-control.com.

Agricultural-Based Spray-foam Insulation

The attic is sealed with Demilec’s Sealection Agribalance, an open-cell foam with an environmentally friendly vegetable-oil base. The builder also applied it along the band joist between the first and second floors. 877.336.4532. www.demilecusa.com.

No-Float Mulch

Drought-tolerant landscaping is protected by NoFloat cypress mulch by Corbitt Mfg. The company says it’s a natural wood-fiber pellet that’s super-porous and resists weeds, insects, and rushing water. 800.422-4330. www.cypress-mulch.com.

Hybrid Hot Water

In conjunction with a Takagi tankless unit that supplies hot water to half the house, Derecor installed the Vertex by A.O. Smith, a gas-fired tank that uses a heated coil to achieve 90% efficiency. It’s fed by a PVC pipe rather than the stainless steel required by a tankless unit, making it is less expensive to install and an attractive remodeling option. Takagi: 888.882.5244. www.takagi.com. Circle 356. Vertex: 800.527.1953. www.hotwater.com/green.

Paint

The low-VOC interior paint from Behr’s new Premium Select line not only contributes to indoor air quality, it meant no new-house paint odor when Parade visitors were touring the home. The paint is available only through Masco Contractor Services. 800.773.4253. www.mascocs.com.

Beaver Builders

Rainwater Harvesting

A 1,700-gallon, underground cistern collects rainwater from the roof and disperses it into the garden by way of an irrigation system that automatically taps into city water for backup. 817.676.4440. www.therainwell.com.

Permanent Soil Amendment

Hydrozone, a water-absorbing polymer that is said to reduce watering by 70%, was buried 1 to 2 inches deep throughout virtually the entire property. It’s engineered to absorb 30 to 40 times its weight in water, releasing it to trees, shrubs, and turf grass as needed, and it is not affected by fertilizers. Nontoxic and pH neutral, it has a 10-year-plus warranty. Provided by AAdvanced Water Management: 972.494.3494.

Air Quality

Two 19 SEER air conditioning and heating units regulate temperatures in seven zones of this 3,500-square-foot house—three upstairs and four downstairs. Fresh air is filtered through the units via intakes at the back porch rather than near the roof, where air is hotter and contains pollutants from the shingles. 800.428.4326. www.bryant.com. Provided by Service Worx: 817.891.1616. www.svcworx.com.

John Spencer Custom Homes

Compact Fluorescent Lighting

The house’s lighting is 95% compact fluorescent, which is four times more efficient than incandescent lighting and lasts 10 times longer. “Lighting manufacturers are starting to produce bulbs with better coloring,” John Spencer says, adding that 2700K provides the warmest light and is virtually indistinguishable from incandescent. Longstar Industry Co. Provided by Park Row Lighting, Allen, Texas: 972.359.6929. www.parkrowlighting.com.

Recycled Glass

EnviroGLAS makes customized countertop slabs out of recycled glass and porcelain. They can be cut to size by a local installer. 972.473.3725. www.enviroglasproducts.com.

“Second Chance” Sink Stand

In the guest house, a reconditioned oil drum with a coppery finish stands in for a sink base. 610.962.9329. www.bristolbath.com.

Scarlett Custom Homes

Smart design

Energy efficiency starts with a well-thought-out design. Deep overhangs shade the interior from the sun’s rays, and a flatter roof pitch means less attic volume to insulate.

Recycled-Content Handrail

For an upstairs exterior balcony, Scarlett chose a long-lasting Trex handrail made out of recycled trash bags. “The color is integrated, and the price isn’t that much more than premium cedar,” Scarlett says. “People who came through the Parade were intrigued by how good it felt in their hands.” 800.289.8739. www.trex.com.

Dual-Flush Toilet

The VitrA dual-flush toilet reduces water consumption by providing just the right amount of water for the job— 1.6 gallons at full flush and 0.8 gallons at low flush. 877.658.4872. www.vitra-usa.com.