Sustainable building has been fairly slow to make significant inroads for existing homes, Kermit Baker, senior research fellow at Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, told attendees at the Greenbuild conference in Phoenix recently, but markets are aligning to bring efficient remodeling to the forefront.

Though the decline hit the renovation market hard—spending shrunk from $326 billion in 2007 to $246 billion in 2009—remodelers can expect to see an overall surge caused by pent-up demand as well as spending on recent foreclosures that need fixing up.

The next decade is shaping up to be strong, Baker said, with 15 million new households expected. Three-quarters of those households will be made up of minorities; the echo boom also will play a significant role, as that generation has swollen even larger than the baby boom.

Half of our 130-million-unit housing stock was built prior to the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. In addition to the need to remedy those outdated houses, echo boomers in general are more environmentally conscious than other generations.

Even more important, the decline in housing prices has changed homeowners’ perspectives: There is more focus on performance and quality than on luxury upgrades, said Baker, who also is chief economist for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and energy management finally has people’s attention.

With this generation approaching its prime remodeling years (30s and 40s) over the next two decades, Baker said, there will be a unique opportunity to modify the key characteristics of our existing housing stock.

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.