It's no mirage – energy efficiency is gaining traction. Whether people are concerned about contributing to climate change by burning fossil fuels or saving money on their utility bills, there is rising demand for homes that can do more with less. Home builders are paying attention, and the new house of today is demonstrating different priorities from the residential construction of the past few decades. Among the ways that efficiency trends are playing out are an increase in low-maintenance yards, modern lighting and multi-generational living.

A Watershed Year for Efficiency

People really are paying more attention to their energy consumption these days. A study by Johnson Controls found that interest in energy efficiency had risen across North America by 116 percent between 2010 and 2014. The report called 2014 a “watershed year for energy efficiency” and that “strong improvements in key indicators signal major commitments to energy efficiency, high performance buildings, distributed energy systems and smart building technologies.”

Contractors are taking note of the heightened focus on efficiency and are adjusting their building components accordingly. "Being more energy efficient is extremely important to our home buyers,” Anthony Natale, co-founder and president of Grenadier Homes in Texas, said in a press release. “They're fiscally and environmentally responsible – savvy, sophisticated buyers who want to save money on utility costs while helping to save the planet for their children, grandchildren and beyond."

Keep an Eye on Water and Electricity

One aspect that Natale highlights is a move toward low-maintenance yards that need little in the way of irrigation or other care. A key component of these yards is using native plants, which are accustomed to the local climate and don't need much help to thrive. Another strategy is to integrate rain collection systems so you have water on hand when you need it without breaking out the hose. Also, efficiency-minded homeowners design landscaping in a way that reduces runoff and takes advantage of plants' natural preferences for shady or sunny areas.

In addition to conserving water, homeowners are also reducing their electric bills with LED lighting technology. LED lights last up to 25 times as long and only use 25 percent as much electricity as those old-timey incandescent bulbs. Initially, some consumers shied away from LEDs because of their high initial cost and limited utility, but technological advances mean that you can now find affordable LED solutions to just about any lighting setup you can think of.

Sharing Space with Grandma and Grandpa

One more recent trend in efficiency is a bit more surprising – a rise in multi-generational households. A 2014 study by the National Association of Realtors Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends found that households that included some combination of parents, adult children, adult siblings and grandparents comprised 14 percent of sales.

The savings are clear – fewer homes means less redundancy in heating, cooling, lighting and other energy-consuming necessities. New homes built to take advantage of this trend can offer separate entrances and suite-like setups in different areas of the house so residents can maintain their privacy while still sharing the structure.

If you want to cut back on your own energy usage but aren't prepared to invite grandma and grandpa home just yet, have a home services professional conduct an energy audit and create a tailored efficiency plan that's right for you.

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