It’s been a banner year for Albuquerque’s Artistic Homes. The green builder earned accolades from several major green building groups, including USGBC’s Outstanding Production Builder Award and a Builder’s Challenge Award.

And it’s no wonder. The company is setting a high bar for builders around the country by continuing to push toward ever-more sustainable homes that still remain within range of typical homebuyers. It’s latest goal: to build more zero-energy homes in 2009 than any other builder in the country.

Artistic Homes’ first zero-energy model, completed in a master-planned community in September, is a LEED-Platinum 1,666-square-foot home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a two-car garage.

While the term “zero-energy” tends to immediately call to mind solar power, Artistic looks first at improving and perfecting its building science techniques to ensure optimal efficiency. “You’ve got to focus on optimizing your house and then once you optimize the house, then you can enhance it with renewable energy sources,” says Artistic president Tom Wade.

The zero-energy home starts with the company’s base model, which the builder has improved in the past year to a HERS rating of 57. The Energy Star–rated home features R-10 and R-5 foundation insulation; R-21 blown-in insulation in the 2x6 advanced-framed walls; and R-50 blown-insulation in the attic.

Energy is further conserved with Andersen 100 Series Energy Star–rated windows, ductwork contained in conditioned space, pin-based CFL fixtures, Energy Star–labeled appliances, and a tankless water heater.