It's difficult to see the nation's highest volume builder as a niche builder, but D.R. Horton's Sacramento division is proving that the two terms are not mutually exclusive. Determined to carve out a reputation as an environmentally conscious builder, the division has shifted its focus from solely improving energy efficiency to also improving indoor air quality.

In late fall, the division opened its second community meeting the American Lung Association's Health House program standards. The 122 units in the development in Lincoln, Calif., incorporate building technologies and systems that reduce air pollutants such as dust and mold, facilitate moisture infiltration, prevent radon seepage, and regulate air pressure.

Rich Coyle, director of purchasing for the Sacramento division, says the decision to build to Health House standards was the result of an evolution. Five years ago, the division began with Environments for Living, an energy-efficiency certification program run by building materials company Masco Corp. and then moved onto the Department of Energy's Building America program, which required a higher level of compliance.

“We were incrementally getting better at building energy efficient homes and at the same time building the blocks for Health House,” Coyle says. “This was something other builders weren't doing yet, and there's a need for it.”

Coyle says the program helps the division differentiate itself from competitors, and mandates that the homes be tested to ensure proper operation. The Health House program is one of the “things you can do to improve the durability of the house, [which] helps eliminate builder risk,” he explains.

Although meeting the standards adds an estimated 3 percent to 5 percent to the cost of the home and requires a significant investment in training subcontractors, Coyle says it's worth it. “You can demonstrate to buyers that they are going to save money at the end of the day, and it's the right thing to do,” Coyle says.

Vital Stats D.R. Horton is the only registered Health House builder in California.To become a registered Health House builder, the builder must complete special two-day training, sign an agreement, and pay a $2,500 fee, which covers the administrative costs of two site inspections and a final performance test. Builders constructing more than 50 homes or participating in specific builder programs are eligible for discounts.D.R. Horton has two additional Health House developments in the works. Casserro Ranch in Sparks, Nev., currently is under construction while Mirasol at Twelve Bridges, Calif., is in the planning stages.