Although I used to be a builder, I now work as a reporter for an energy-efficiency newsletter. Joining the tribe of energy nerds has altered my perspective, making me single-minded and opinionated. Watching new-home builders in action, I can often be heard to mutter, "Why do they always build it that way?"

Of course, I realize that many of the builders I grumble about are actually familiar with energy-efficient construction techniques — they just can't convince their clients that energy efficiency is worth the extra investment. Most builders are accustomed to juggling several balls at once: They need to satisfy their clients, keep the local...

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