He says that pulling this off isn't easy at first, as he has to integrate the sustainable features into the home in ways that aren't obvious. “It means taking all elements that have to be juggled and combined in any house, then adding an additional 10 to 12 elements that have to be juggled and combined on top of them.”

How do his buyers react to the result? He admits that people who come to him are somewhat self-selecting. “They're not the kind of people who are interested in conspicuous consumption,” but he says their numbers have been growing in recent years, as has the number of builders offering sustainable homes. (NESEA reports that its membership has doubled since 2000.) “Interest in solar started fading soon after I started working on solar homes in 1982,” he recalls. “Now, it's back in a much more substantial way. In fact, there's a great deal more awareness than there was back then. It's more of a paradigm change than a fad. More and more people are starting to realize that energy-efficient features and active solar can replace more frivolous features and that they can end up with a very efficient, very economical, very comfortable home.”

Charles Wardell is a freelance writer based in Vineyard Haven, Mass.