All new homes in England will have to be carbon neutral by 2016, under proposals announced by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly.
Ministers hope the plans will lay the foundations for low carbon homes
The scheme includes tightening building and planning rules, and a star rating system that reveals a property's energy efficiency to potential home buyers.
The UK's 21 million homes are responsible for 27% of CO2 emissions.
The government hopes that the measures will help it meet the target of cutting CO2 emissions by at least 60% by 2050.
"Climate change is a real and imminent threat," Mrs Kelly said in a speech in which she outlined the plans.
"With a rising population and more people living in smaller households, the demand on housing are only set to increase.
"So it is vital that homes and other buildings are as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible," she added.
The measures outlined in the consultation document, called Building a Greener Future: Towards Zero Carbon Development, included:
- tigthening building regulation over the next decade to improve the energy efficiency of new homes
- publication of a Code for Sustainable Homes, which includes a green star rating for properties
- a draft Planning Policy Statement on climate change that will take into account carbon emissions
A zero carbon house is defined as a property with "zero net emissions of carbon dioxide from all energy use in the home".
This includes energy consumed by appliances such as TVs and cookers, not just other uses that are currently part of building regulations, including heating, hot water and ventilation.
Mrs Kelly said that the decision to exempt carbon zero homes from stamp duty, announced by Gordon Brown in his Pre-Budget Report, would act as a financial incentive to developers.
The measures have been welcomed by conservation group WWF, which played host to the event where Mrs Kelly made the announcement.
Paul King, WWF's director of campaigns, said: "The code sends the right signal, loud and clear, for house builders to put zero carbon development at the top of their agenda.
"Zero carbon new homes are critical in achieving the government's target to cut CO2 by at least 60% by 2050 [because] homes built from today onwards will represent one-third of the total housing stock by that date," he added.
Earlier this year, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) published a report warning that key environmental targets were "undeliverable" unless households cut the amount of resources they consumed.
The government's environmental watchdog warned that existing properties also needed to be made more energy efficient.
At least 75% of properties are still expected to be in use in 2050, the year by which the government hopes to have cut carbon emissions by 60% from 1990 levels.
The SDC concluded that retrofitting current technologies, such as better insulation and more efficient heating systems, to the existing housing stock was the most cost-effective way to reduce households' environmental impact.
Mrs Kelly acknowledged that more effort was needed to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes, and hoped the rating scheme, called Energy Performace Certificates, would encourage households to cut consumption.
The communities secretary also used her speech to launch a consultation on whether to include water efficiency measures within building regulations.