Lance Manlove is a guy who cares passionately about energy-efficient construction and green products. He even built a backyard playhouse for his 3-year-old daughter that includes solar panels and LED lighting. “And she can tell you what those panels are for,” he boasts.

I made contact with Manlove, a mechanical engineer-turned-builder, by chance. While vacationing last week in Rehoboth Beach, Del., I drove by a gigantic billboard with the words “Zero Energy” in the middle of it. Below the phrase were a few words about energy efficiency and a Web site address. I was surprised--actually shocked--by the sight. I figured I might see a billboard for zero-energy homes in California, but in a small beach town in Delaware?

Intrigued, I went to the Web site and found that the builder was Zero Energy LLC based in neighboring Lewes, Del. I called the company’s office, left a message, and quickly got a response from an enthusiastic Manlove, president and project manager.

His two-year-old company, an Energy Star partner, recently obtained the permit for its first house, a 3,600-square-foot dwelling that Manlove says will not be zero energy--but almost. The house, for a retiree from Baltimore, will include, among other things, ICFs, a geothermal heat pump, solar panels, continuous hot water, spray-foam insulation, reclaimed wood flooring, dual-flush toilets, conditioned crawl spaces, and smart lighting. As important, the design pays close attention to the orientation of the home and the landscaping.

Manlove, 32, worked in the solar power industry 10 years ago and says his early professional work showed him the benefits of renewable energy and conservation, and that he hopes to convince home buyers to build zero-energy houses, despite their initial higher costs. But, he says, he thinks consumers are ready to hear his message. When Zero Energy held its first information presentation at a local hotel in February, Manlove hoped there would be 10 people in the room--75 showed up.

I think Manlove is right. Not only are Americans embracing energy efficiency and conservation, they are beginning to demand that their builders and remodelers go beyond green. Zero-energy houses are not only being constructed by custom builders like Manlove, but also by a couple of forward-thinking production builders, like Centex. The wave, it appears, is about to crest.