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The Follow-Through

Posted by Suzanne Shelton

May 28, 2014 7:20:00 PM

Shelton’s Energy Pulse 2013 was full of encouraging insights for green builders and energy-efficient product manufacturers and contractors. Home improvements related to energy efficiency are on the rise. Following a steady decline from 2007 to 2012, there was a noticeable uptick for technologies including solar panels, tankless water heaters, energy displays and high-efficiency HVAC systems. Plus, consumer attitudes toward energy conservation were more positive on the whole.

This is all good news for green builders, and, at first glance it certainly seems to correspond with another revelation from Energy Pulse 2013: more people (64 percent) believe that climate change is real and primarily caused by humans.

The obvious conclusion would be that these two things are related, and that builders should capitalize on this new trend by hopping on the climate change bandwagon. Right?

Before jumping to any conclusions, we must keep in mind that the average consumer does not really connect their house’s energy use with issues like global warming and carbon footprint. Sure, we all know the big SUV in the driveway is a no-no, but that “House of Cards” marathon running on the plasma in the living room—while the furnace in the basement is going toe-to-toe with the Polar Vortex to maintain a balmy 75 degrees—that’s not really hurting anyone, is it? Few have a clue about how their electricity is generated, so most aren’t connecting the dots.

Just as buying reduced fat cookies makes us feel less guilty about eating sweets, investing in more energy-efficient lighting, HVAC, water heaters, etc., can make us less concerned about how we use this technology.

Thus, we can’t expect an increase in climate change belief to move the needle significantly towards home energy efficiency improvements or green home purchases. We have to rely on additional drivers. According to this year’s Energy Pulse results, there are several specific things consumers are looking for in a new home.

  • Comfort is king. Americans say that “making their home more comfortable” is more important than enhancing their homes’ energy efficiency or even making their homes more beautiful. In addition, “an energy-efficient home allows you to set your thermostat to a more comfortable setting without paying more” is one the best messages we test.
  • Resale value. We’ve found that 81 percent of likely homebuyers say that energy efficiency would positively impact their home selection decision. The challenge here is that some education is needed. Consumers, and many in the real estate industry for that matter, think that aesthetic features and improvements have a greater impact on home values. In actuality, a recent “Cost vs. Value Report” shows that half of the top ROI home improvements are related to energy efficiency (e.g. doors, windows and siding).
  • Health matters. Maintaining a comfortable temperature is a perceived factor for good health and indoor air quality is a growing concern, especially for families with children. Asthma is on the rise, as are concerns about mold and mildew prevention. Green homes address these concerns. But people living in more tightly sealed homes should also be more thoughtful about potential VOCs from products they bring into their homes, such as cleaning supplies and furnishings. There’s a need (and an opportunity) for green homebuilders to go beyond the sale to educate buyers on this issue.
  • Show me the money. It’s tried and true: few things motivate better than the promise of controlling costs. If an efficient home is managed properly (another education opportunity), utility cost savings are definitely achievable.

All of the above-mentioned insights present excellent opportunities for marketing green homes. But there is one more piece of data that you should consider:

Energy-efficiency behaviors are down.

This seems counter-intuitive when juxtaposed against our earlier statistic showing an increase in energy efficiency spending. But it’s true—fewer consistently unplug electronics, appliances and chargers, and people are actually less likely to turn off their lights and use energy-efficient thermostat settings than in previous years. We think this is likely due to an improving economy (people are less worried about their utility bills) and “the Snackwells effect.” Just as buying reduced fat cookies makes us feel less guilty about eating sweets, investing in more energy-efficient lighting, HVAC, water heaters, etc., can make us less concerned about how we use this technology.

Educating Homeowners

And while this bad behavior may bother you from an ecological standpoint, you are likely also wondering how it affects your business model. Despite the fact that you are pretty much out of the picture once your buyers move in, how they feel about their home should be very important to you. If they fork over the extra change for a green home and then move in and practice inefficient behaviors, their bills might exceed their expectations—in a bad way. If this happens they’ll talk to their friends—in a bad way. Bad habits equal poor customer satisfaction, which equals bad business.

Here’s what you can do about it:

  • Educate. Offer new homeowners a walkthrough/training session. Give them a “starter kit” with all-natural cleaning products and a hands-on demonstration of their new home’s energy efficiency features. Prescriptively show what steps need to be taken to maximize the home’s performance and indoor air quality.
  • Communicate. Develop a simple four to eight-page booklet educating the new homeowner on how to maximize their energy-efficient features. Consider producing placards and stickers that can be left in key locations to encourage positive behaviors. (For example, place a sticker on the hot water heater indicating the most efficient settings).
  • Follow up. Offer a six-month consultation to see if the customer is satisfied with their home and offer any relevant suggestions.
While stereotypical climate change messaging might work for the greenest “actives” in the market for a home, other messages appeal to an even wider audience and connect to deeper personal drivers. Green builders and energy-efficiency contractors should also go beyond the sale to make sure their buyers know how to use their green home features well, because that will help ensure satisfaction—and satisfied customers are a great source of referrals

Resources
Cost vs. Value Report

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