Consumers supposedly have ultimate power in the marketplace. While we may hear that demand precedes supply, there’s an interesting contradiction in the building industry. Market research on home buyers shows strong consumer demand for energy efficiency. Designers, builders, and real estate brokers say that they give customers what they ask for. But if this were true, energy-efficient homes would be far more common than they are. Stories abound of buyers asking for energy efficiency, but not finding it in the marketplace and some are even being actively discouraged. Often, this discouragement results in the purchase of a home that costs more to own and offers less in terms of comfort, quiet, health and durability.

Is capitalism breaking down? No, but consumers are clearly not using the full strength of their power to influence the market. So how can consumers flex their muscles in the market to promote high-performance homes? Here are some suggestions on how to make their influence felt.


Know your strength.

Consumers really are in the driver’s seat, but have often been intimidated by professionals. Especially in active housing markets, consumers may feel like they must accept whatever industry professionals offer. But the truth is, they can, and should, use their position as valued customers to push back and influence the market.


Speak up.

Tell everyone you contact that you want a healthy and energy-efficient home. Be loud and proud and be sure to document all agreements in sales and construction contracts with regard to the specific energy-saving measures promised.


Come prepared.

Be more informed than any building professionals who may try to dissuade you. Do your homework and prepare a written list of home features that you want. This list should include technical details, such as energy ratings, insulation values, and equipment efficiencies. The Zero Energy Project offers the technical information you can share with your designer and builder. Document your building requirements and give it to every designer, builder, and real estate broker you meet.


Demand cost parity.

Zero energy homes don’t need to cost more than conventional homes, so don’t accept the false argument that they must. Embrace a somewhat smaller living space and be willing to sacrifice a few cosmetic amenities, such as expensive countertops and jetted tubs. In return, you’ll have a healthier, more comfortable, quieter home that costs less to own. So go ahead and ask for a house that meets your functional needs at the price you can afford.


Shop total price.

A small, well-designed home can cost the same, or less, than a large home with unnecessary features and large unused spaces. Cost per square foot is an industry standard for comparing “value,” but it is often misleading because a measure of quantity does not describe the quality and value of a home. In fact, large homes are more expensive and more difficult to maintain and may be hard to sell later on as markets change and the trend continues towards smaller, more energy-efficient homes.


Think total cost of ownership.

Utility bills for a smaller, energy-efficient home can be next to nothing. As a result, a zero energy home usually costs less to own than a similar home.


Recruit others in your search.

Arm family and friends with your list of desired features. With documentation in hand, send them out to search and speak to builders and brokers on your behalf.


Stick with it.

Perseverance pays. It may take a bit longer to find just the right home, the right solar lot, a knowledgeable designer, or an experienced builder. But remember they are out there.


Search smarter.

Multiple listings services may have searchable data fields for information that can help. The listing may identify a home’s third-party certification, insulation levels, solar panels, etc. A real estate broker can set up a search for you. Unfortunately, about half of multiple listing services in the U.S. still don’t show green features or green home certifications. This is the perfect opportunity to use your voice to let brokers and their managers to know how much you need that information. Even so, the MLS isn’t the only source of information on this topic. You can also visit, a website dedicated to listing homes that are energy efficient and environmentally friendly, including zero energy homes.


If necessary, walk away.

It’s difficult to swim upstream. In a hot market, buyers don’t have much leverage, and often get stuck with homes that don’t work for them in the long run. If you simply can’t find the home you want, consider putting your search on the back burner for a while. More time just might allow the right property to appear. The market may experience a downturn, as it does periodically. If that happens, prices will drop and buyers will have more leverage. Sometimes going slow, will get you to your destination faster.


Build custom.

A great way to get what you want is to have it designed just for you. The key to building on a budget is to reduce size. A good designer can reduce construction cost by reducing the plan’s footprint and finding creative ways to meet your functional  needs with less space. A design/build firm, experienced in energy efficient buildings, can often save money by improving efficiencies and reducing duplication. Plan for expansion by designing a home with a future addition in mind. Contribute sweat equity by doing relatively simple jobs, such as laying prefinished flooring, painting, and landscaping.


Find your hero.

Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi. You may find your oracle nearby. Search the internet for real estate brokers that specialize in energy-efficient properties. Search the Zero Energy Project’s Directory of energy-efficient builders and designers. Talk with homeowners of energy efficient or zero energy homes to learn how they achieved their zero energy dream.


Ask for certified energy-efficient homes.

ENERGY STAR homes are available across the United States. Green certifications, such as Earth Advantage, Zero Energy Ready, and Built Green include health, resource and water-efficiency measures as well as energy-efficiency measures. Contact the programs available near you to see if they can direct you to certified homes that may be for sale.


Being a good consumer is like throwing a skipping stone. With the proper wind up and delivery, one person can make ripples across an entire pond. So get out there and make some waves. It will not only help you get the energy-efficient home you want, it will help move the industry into the 21st century.