Since it was founded in 1974, the Fresno, California-based company De Young Properties has built more than 7,000 quality crafted homes in the Central Valley of California. Prompted by both changing market attitudes and a “history of innovation,” as described by Brandon De Young, vice president of operations for the family-owned business, the firm has fully committed itself to sustainability, as evidenced by the 2,064-square-foot De Young Net Zero EnergySmart Home it constructed for the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway in 2012.

“We’re always striving for innovation,” De Young says. “The rising cost of energy, especially in California, is becoming more and more of an expense for consumers, so they want more energy-efficient homes. We’ve been the major donor and builder of the St. Jude Dream Home in the Central Valley for seven years. It’s really impactful to see how the giveaway benefits both the winner of the home each year, as well as the children fighting life-threatening diseases at St. Jude’s.”

Homebuilders like De Young Properties saw project volumes and revenues peak in the years leading up to the economic crash of 2008. But the crash, which necessitated self-assessment in both the scope of its impact and its suddenness, forced homebuilders to reassess what is truly important for housing. In response to this, De Young Properties, which is actively building in five communities, also builds all of its new homes to be up to 40 percent more energy-efficient than California’s stringent building code. “We take a whole-house approach when designing our energy-efficient homes,” De Young says. “Every aspect of the home’s energy-related systems is addressed.”

“We’re always striving for innovation. The rising cost of energy, especially in California, is becoming more and more of an expense for consumers, so they want more energy-efficient homes.”

Brandon De Young, De Young Properties

The house has Energy Star-rated water heaters, exhaust fans, and dishwashers; energy-efficient HVAC systems; argon gas-filled, dual-pane, low-E windows; radiant barrier reflective insulation; cool roof tiles; high-efficiency lighting; and formaldehyde-free insulation. Simas Floor & Design Company has worked with De Young on a number of projects, including the Dream Home, and has helped select greener flooring options, such as Shaw’s Nottoway Hickory Hardwood. “The Nottoway hardwood is made with Shaw’s EnviroCore, a high-density fiber core derived from recycled wood fiber, which means fewer trees are used with less waste,” says Mark Simas, president of Simas Floor & Design. In addition to green materials, a solar photovoltaic system offsets the home’s annual electricity use to bring 2012’s Dream Home to its net-zero status.

St. Jude Children’s Hospital is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, and is the largest children’s cancer research hospital in the world. It created the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway in 1991, which raffles off a home at $100 per ticket, the proceeds of which are donated to children’s cancer research. In addition to De Young Properties, the program has sponsors from all over the US and has raised more than $224 million to date. Spurred partly by the publicity and partly by the charitable opportunity, it encourages builders to test new ideas, employ new technologies, and—in the case of De Young Properties, which is now modeling net-zero-energy homes—set new precedents for what is a “basic” home.

The Dream Home isn’t De Young’s first foray into energy-efficient homebuilding; since 2009, the company has been building to the rigorous California Advanced Homes Program Tier 2 level or even 10 percent above the strict standards. “We receive great feedback from our customers regarding their energy bills,” De Young says. “Sustainability isn’t going anywhere—it’s the new norm.”