You probably get where I’m going with this blog… communications is critical when marketing and selling high-performance homes. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) program delivers seven complete systems to homebuyers that ensure a superior experience:

  1. High-Performance Enclosure
  2. High-Efficiency Components
  3. Whole-House Water Protection
  4. High-Performance Comfort
  5. Whole-House Health Protection
  6. Solar Ready Construction
  7. Enhanced Quality Assurance

The trick is making these systems compelling to homebuyers. The bigger trick is doing that while they are focused on location, floor plan, and architecture. Just the way the house is a system when it comes to building science, communications is a system with it comes to translating value. In this blog post, I’ll convey the four-part communication system deployed by the ZERH program along with related marketing resources and highlight our latest tools.

Part One: Lead with a simple “Why”

Every endeavor should have a core “why” message that inspires a target audience and motivates interest in your organization and its products, services, or programs. ZERH has a two-word “why”: “Live Better.” And that’s based on the seven complete systems delivering a superior consumer experience. That’s why we believe ZERH is the home of the future, today.  The following resources build and expand on this core message with basic details that back up the “live better” promise.

Consumer Video: One of the newest ZERH resources is a whiteboard video that conveys the core “Live Better” message and underlying superior living experiences in just over a minute. This valuable pre-sale tool is free to download from the ZERH website and can be posted on any DOE partner’s website.

Homeowner Manual: This valuable post-sale tool can be co-branded with DOE partners’ names and images. It is intended to help train new sales teams and better inform homebuyers on the “why” message after move-in. Specifically, this simple, easy-to-read manual effectively educates homebuyers about the seven superior experiences and related features and technologies in every certified home. Along the way, it also provides important tips on how to maintain and get the most out of their ZERH.

Part Two: Provide clarity about the “Why” with contrast

Research shows that we understand something much better when we see it in comparison with other options than when we see it in isolation. So what are the key homebuyer options to ZERH? Most commonly they are an ENERGY STAR Certified Home or an existing resale home. The following resources provide clarity by contrasting these options.

ZERH Fact Sheet and ZERH Brochure: Both the fact sheet and brochure use the same comparison bars to clearly contrast the dramatic difference living in a Zero Energy Ready Home compared to a typical ENERGY STAR Certified Home or existing resale home. Simple messages also explain the label and how to get more information. The brochure also provides more detail about the benefits of a ZERH. Both of these resources can be co-branded with DOE partners.

Part Three: Showcase proof of the “Why”

In the sales process, it’s critical to be believed. Towards that end, ZERH initiated a builder recognition program called the Housing Innovation Awards with an application that requires content needed for compelling case studies. This includes images, floor plans, actual HERS results, homeowner testimonials, key statistics, and a list of key features. This content has been invaluable creating the following resources that prove the “Why.”

ZERH Tour of Zero: This resource provides a virtual tour of over 200 homes that have won the DOE Housing Innovation Award the past five years. Site visitors can search homes by builder name, location, and climate zone. The profiles showcase beautiful homes in all price ranges and architectural styles that deliver outstanding experiences. This is evidenced with homeowner and builder testimonials and documented utility cost savings that add up to $10,000s, and often more than $100,000 over a thirty-year mortgage.

The ZERH team realized that the growing library of ZERH homeowner testimonials from the Tour of Zero was a valuable asset that could be further leveraged to prove the “why.” They have been used for the following two new resources:

ZERH Homeowner Testimonial Library: The full library of homeowner testimonials speak to the diverse and compelling experiences living in certified Zero Energy Ready Homes. This new resource provides DOE partners access to all of these testimonials for use marketing and selling ZERHs.

ZERH Experience Fact Sheets: This is a series of fact sheets featuring six superior experiences: Health, Comfort, Advanced Technology, Low Utility Bills, Quality, and Durability. They include the matching comparison bars, description of the benefits and what they mean to homeowners, short review of the related features in simple language, and three related ZERH homeowner testimonials. These fact sheets can be co-branded with DOE partners and customized with preferred homeowner testimonials from the full ZERH library.

Part Four: Leverage Trust in the “Why” with DOE Voice of Authority

Earning trust with new homebuyers is critical. This is because homes are purchased rarely in life, homebuyers are typically not familiar with how to assess value, and home builders are not well-known companies. The credibility of the U.S. Department of Energy, the nation’s most rigorous label for home performance, and independent verification all work together to help earn trust with the following resources:

Zero Energy Ready Home Label: This certification based on world-class expert recommendations for high-performance homes distinguishes the top 1% highest performing homes in the nation. It can be used on plaques, signage, marketing materials, websites, and other outreach.

Housing Innovation Awards: This DOE recognition provides builders distinction as national award winners. The awards can be displayed in offices, models, and marketing materials and promoted in press releases. Award-winning homes are further distinguished with automatic inclusion in the DOE Tour of Zero.

ZERH Drop-in Messaging: This tool enhances trust by providing quotes from DOE that can be customized with each DOE partner’s name. They address a wide range of compelling benefits associated with certified Zero Energy Ready Homes and the leadership provided by program partners.

This comprehensive communication strategy and key resources can help all DOE partners tell their Zero Energy Ready Home story more effectively. You’re in an elite group of our nation’s builders if you can certify homes to this level of performance excellence. Now don’t keep it a secret.


Sam Rashkin was the Chief Architect with the Zero Energy Ready Homes program at the US Department of Energy and now provides housing industry training and consulting (