Since its high mark in July, the cost of crude oil has plunged from $147 a barrel to about $46 at the start of 2009. While this is a positive sign for the economy, it also means that energy costs are no longer front and center with many American homeowners.

Interest in efficient homes swells when energy costs are high, but fickle American consumers forget about energy concerns when prices go down. This is striking a blow to green home building and its emphasis on energy efficiency.

EcoHome Online recently reported that the lower cost of fossil fuel combined with declining home prices has contributed to a slowdown among low-energy housing developments around the country, including projects by Meritage Homes and Shea Homes. For full article click here.

"It's been a bad couple of months," said Scott Kramer, a forward planner for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Meritage, which builds homes in Texas, Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.

Think it’s surprising that Americans are only worried about saving energy when oil prices are high? Recent research backs up the fact that U.S. consumers make eco-friendly purchasing decisions for selfish—not altruistic—reasons. The Shelton Group’s 2008 Eco Pulse and Energy Pulse surveys found that when it comes to green product purchasing decisions, Americans are motivated more by money, comfort, and convenience than helping the environment.

“Being green from a consumer’s perspective isn’t about saving the planet,” said Suzanne Shelton, president of the Chicago-based public relations firm. “It’s also about the deeper drivers of comfort, peace of mind, and security.”

For example, when asked what would most likely motivate them to ramp up efforts to conserve energy, more survey respondents said they would do so “to save money,” than “to protect our environment and save natural resources.”

Savvy builders and remodelers must tap into what truly motivates their customers. They need to show buyers the non-environmental benefits of living in a green home: being more comfortable and healthy, saving money, slashing energy bills, and impressing the neighbors. Don’t assume customers will choose green products and materials because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Fuel prices will not stay low forever and energy-efficient homes will always be in vogue with savvy buyers, so continue to promote the sustainable aspects of your green homes, but consider the bottom line as well.

“Consumers want to know: ‘What’s in it for me?’” Shelton said.

 As a green building pro, now more than ever, it’s up to you to show them.