When it comes to the long-term energy performance of homes, there is little doubt — particularly after the recent spike in oil prices — that the marketplace is going to start expecting greater accountability and more sophisticated analysis. It’s essential that those of us on the supply side (contractors and designers) keep up with the needs and priorities of the demand side (homeowners and home buyers). And the first step toward meeting those evolving needs is understanding the range of strategies we have to choose from.

In my experience, there are six main ways of thinking about household energy-efficiency improvements. In implementation, there aren’t clear boundaries between these approaches; they’re not mutually exclusive and in fact there can be significant overlap. But they do represent distinct ways of thinking about energy improvements — six different...

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