When I was the residential real estate reporter at the Dallas Times Herald years ago, some of my journalist colleagues would become incensed that Dallasites weren't up in arms about a prominent CEO caught embezzling money or a local mayor taking expensive gifts from contractors or a production home builder discriminating against minority buyers. But our readers' lack of interest in these matters never surprised me. Even though I didn't own a house or have children, I recognized that most people only cared about what directly affected their wallets and their families.

So when it comes to green building, I think home builders and remodelers should focus their attention on what matters most to their customers. Right now, that may not be lower sales prices, but lower operational costs.

Americans probably won't see gasoline prices much less than $4 per gallon ever again and, based on reports from the U.S. automakers, drivers are beginning to shun gas-guzzling SUVs. In addition, families are canceling vacations by car or by plane, also because of higher fuel costs. At the same time, food prices are soaring, again mainly due to rising petroleum costs. And it won't be too long before manufacturers of other goods and services hike their prices for the same reason.

The gas and food price increases, in combination with wage stagnation and falling home values, are taking a toll on poor and middle-class families. So I wasn't too surprised when the U.S. Green Building Council published a study of green home buyers noting that of those surveyed, 56% earned less than $75,000 and 29% earned less than $50,000. The vast majority of respondents (83%) said their new green homes will have lower operating costs, as well as lower energy bills (79%) and lower water bills (68%), within the first year after purchase.

Even if you're not ready to build a zero-energy home, you can offer your clients many energy- and water-saving options, including Energy Star-rated appliances, super-efficient window glazings, tankless water heaters, compact fluorescent light fixtures, and ultra-low-flow showerheads and faucets. My family purchased a front-loading clothes washer 10 years ago, and although it was difficult to spend nearly $1,000 for it, we immediately saw our water bill drop by 30%.

Efficient products often cost more than standard wares, but for a few thousand dollars, your home buyers and remodeling clients can live in spaces that have much lower operating costs-savings they can shift to their gas tanks. 

Jean Dimeo is Co-Chief Editor for EcoHome.