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As the real estate business rebounds, homebuilders are seeing some growth because of a new nationwide awareness of energy efficiency and the money it can save homeowners.

Tanya Narath, of Santa Rosa, Calif., was already taking advantage of renewable energy and green building techniques — her home has had solar panels on its roof for years, and solar tubes draw in natural light to brighten even the darkest spaces of the home. But then Tanya had an energy audit performed on her home, and she decided it was time to retrofit — the walls, the areas around the home's solar-tube lighting and the attic were leaking air substantially.

“We already had a lot of green upgrades in place that kept our energy costs low, but we just wanted to get as close to a zero carbon footprint as we can,” Tanya says.

Pinnacle Homes replaced insulation in several areas of the house, installed moisture barriers and sealed air leaks. Additionally, Tanya had a solar hot water heater installed, along with a hydronic system that heats the air in place of a gas furnace.

The $41,000 in upgrades were possible through a county Energy Independence Program where the upfront costs of energy-saving upgrades are covered through the program, allowing Tanya to pay back the money through installments on her property taxes. In the first month after her new upgrades were put in place, Tanya’s energy bills are down 50 percent from the previous month, and her home is “definitely more comfortable.”

“Retrofits offer huge opportunities,” Tanya says. “To me it’s like upgrading the kitchen — you do these things because it increases your home’s value and comfort level, so it’s really an investment, and the energy savings add up over time.”