The idea of passive housing — basically, well-insulated buildings that don't require a ton of energy to heat and cool — is certainly not a new one. Standards for passive housing have been around for 25 years in Europe, but they are only now starting to catch on stateside.
The New York Times has an excellent profile on the rise of the passive house in New York City that's worth a read. 'Catching on' is maybe an overstatement — according to the article, dozens of passive units have been built, but far more are under consideration.
The benefits of passive housing seem to make it an obvious choice: in return for a small extra cost when building the house, you get far lower energy bills, cleaner air inside, much less noise (thanks to that extra insulation), and even subtle benefits like warmer houses during a winter blackout.
To my non-engineer, non-architect mind it sounds like a total win-win for everyone involved. Unless there are any compelling reasons otherwise, let's just incorporate this into the building code and make it official. [New York Times]