The  Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) is showcasing 13 energy-efficient houses in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, reports Boise State Public Radio (“Super-Energy Efficient Homes Built To Inspire More Stringent Codes,” by Tom Banse). “The houses don't look unusual from the outside. But all have been designed to use at least 30 percent less energy,” the station reports. “The question is, can you afford to buy one of these houses?”

“What we're trying to do with this specification is really find that sweet spot where you are maximizing energy efficiency,” explains NEEA manager Neil Grigsby, “before you start hitting diminishing returns with added costs."

Counters Jan Himebaugh, government affairs director of the Building Industry Association of Washington: “Hybrid cars get great gas mileage and eventually they do pay themselves off - or so I'm told. I don't have one. I don't have one because I can't afford to pay the extra cost upfront right now. And it's the same thing with a home. Many people aren't capable of paying right now."