Building industry officials and conservationists are predicting increased interest in energy-efficient home construction if the crisis in the Persian Gulf continues to drive up oil prices.

Although the oil price scare is the latest development to draw attention to home energy consumption, it is not the only one, according to industry officials.

A renewed interest in such environmental problems as global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer already has increased interest in energy-efficient construction, said Tom Farkas, energy program manager for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Bill Prindle, a senior official with the Alliance to Save Energy, said the military buildup in the Persian Gulf "puts the energy conservation aspect of the environmental movement into real sharp focus."

In fact, the environmental movement is credited with helping boost several energy efficiency initiatives that could help ease any fuel price crunch should the flow of Middle Eastern oil falter.

The home builders group is gearing up to launch a multimillion-dollar, nationwide program to recognize homes built to what its sponsors call a "rigorous" standard of energy performance. The NAHB also plans to develop a similar program to certify the work on existing homes done by its remodeler members.

Certifications of newly built homes under the program probably will not begin until 1992. The organizers hope that by the year 2000 participating homes will achieve energy savings of at least 50 percent of the energy consumed by the typical home built today.

In another development that conservationists consider encouraging, the Senate recently passed a global warming bill that, in part, calls for a system to rate the energy efficiency of homes at the time of sale. A House committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Sept. 13 on a similar measure.

More promising still, conservationists said, is the major housing bill that Congress is close to enacting. One provision in it gives home buyers and homeowners a financing break on energy-efficient purchases and improvements.

The fate of the provision rests on whether House and Senate negotiators can agree next month on a final version of the bill that is acceptable to all parties, including the White House.

Residential energy conservation first became a public issue in the 1970s because of twin energy shocks that sent oil prices to $35 a barrel from $3 a barrel.

Conservation amnesia settled in during the 1980s, Prindle said, as oil prices dropped, finally hitting bottom in 1986. That year, many buyers jumped into the home market when interest rates tumbled and real estate values soared, pushing energy-efficiency priorities still lower, he added.

Today, there remains plenty of room for conservation improvement, given that housing consumes 20 percent of the country's energy, according to Farkas. Eighty percent of homes built before 1985 leak as much energy as they use, said Jim Curtis, an energy consultant based in Palo Alto, Calif.

The construction industry has made progress, however. Houses built today, Farkas said, use 50 percent less energy than those built prior to the 1970s oil price shocks.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait has prompted some home buyers and homeowners to begin reassessing their commitment to lowering residential energy consumption, Curtis said.

"The most positive thing {that has happened lately} for home energy efficiency has been some small lines at the filling station," making consumers more aware of the need for energy conservation, Curtis said.

Richard Conner, an official with the Suburban Maryland Building Industry Association, agreed that pressure could build. "All you need is a scare like this," he said.

Conner is in charge of the organization's "E-7" program, which is named after a designation given to homes built by the group's members to certain standards of energy efficiency. The number refers to the target of achieving a payback of added construction costs in seven years or less.

The number of homes built under the E-7 program has dwindled in recent years, Conner said. In light of the Persian Gulf crisis, Conner predicted that construction of such houses will soon increase and perhaps approach the program's 1984 high point when 10,000 homes were built to E-7 standards.

The Northern Virginia Building Industry Association will soon offer the E-7 program through its members.

The link between oil prices and residential heating and cooling bills is, in many cases, indirect. Nationwide, oil accounts for less than 15 percent of total residential use, with the Northeast accounting for most of it, Prindle said.

Nonetheless, oil creates a "drag effect" on all other costs of energy, Curtis said.

Homeowners usually become interested in trading up to more energy-efficient appliances, augmenting insulation and making their homes airtight when the price of fuel goes up, said Peter Jump, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute. So far though, the organization has not received reports from its investor-owned utility members of any noticeable change in their customers' habits, he said.

Ricki Gerger, real estate broker at Prudential Preferred Properties' Kalorama office, said she has seen the first signs of energy concern among local home buyers.

Although she has not seen buyers go out of their way to find homes with the thickest insulation and least wasteful heating and cooling systems, she said that "people are thinking about being close to Metro and public transportation. They are asking themselves, 'Do I really want to live out in Gaithersburg?' "

Others in the business of selling real estate believe that any pickup in demand for conservation features has yet to materialize.

Buyers are interested in energy efficiency, but no more so than usual, said Lisa Benjamin, marketing director for Milton Co., a home builder. "They are fairly well satisfied, with the way houses are built today, that they do have the requisite energy-efficient features," she said.

If anything, Benjamin added, the popularity of vaulted ceilings and skylights, not international hostilities and gas station lines, set off more apprehension about energy efficiency. "They want to make sure that they are not buying a house that looks beautiful but is going to cost a fortune to heat and cool," she said.

Buyers working with NVHomes, said Hugh Winstead, the firm's director of architectural services, are preoccupied these days with job changes and demotions, not with energy efficiency.

"If anything, they are trying to {cut} $20,000 on {the price of} a $300,000 home," he said. "You can insulate a house with the best windows and doors and put in the most space-age piece of equipment and still not spend $20,000."