Yesterday morning’s USA Today shouted that home sales are expected to keep growing stronger this year (including new home sales). That’s great news since the construction industry kind of works like a snowball rolling downhill – when people buy a new home, they buy a lot of other stuff, too, and that’s what keeps our economy humming, for better or worse. The question is this: When all those homes are built and marketed, will energy efficiency and sustainability be factors?
I’ve been at the International Builders’ Show the last couple of days, and I’ve got conflicting indicators in answering that question:
- A Reason Why Green and EE May Be a Factor in Marketing New Homes: I noticed several of the major manufacturers did not have a presence on the show floor this year … but some of them were represented in green houses built in the convention center parking lot. There were still plenty of big manufacturers touting their entire line of products at the show, but I found it interesting that some of the big guys opted to zero in on their greener selections and showcase them in the context of a greener home. Also, it seemed to me that there were more varieties of products like house wrap on the show floor – not sexy stuff, but critical when you’re building an efficient home.
- A Reason Why Green and EE May Not Be a Factor in Marketing New Homes: I’ve spoken at this show for the last 5-6 years about green marketing, and the attendance at my sessions has been steadily declining over the last three years. That could be an indicator that I’m an uninteresting speaker … but, by contrast, when I speak at GreenBuild, my sessions are standing room only. So it would seem that the folks who are very interested in green building (and thus at the GreenBuild show) are also interested in how to leverage that value proposition, whereas the folks interested in simply building may not be all that interested in sustainability as a differentiator. My hunch is that when the bottom fell out of the housing market, a lot of builders got interested in green building because they thought that might allow them to keep building and selling. Now that the market is beginning to open back up, they don’t think they need it.
What should be happening based on consumer preference? According to our quarterly polling of Americans, they are highly interested in many of the end benefits of an efficient or green home. They want to be free from toxins and chemicals, they want to keep their families safe and cozy, and they want to feel like the boss of their energy bills. But it’s not as easy as stating all of that in an ad. They’re also now wary of EE claims, because half of Americans have made 1-3 EE improvements to their existing homes and seen their utility bills stay the same or go UP. And most don’t actually know what the term Indoor Air Quality means – or what to ask to make sure a home they’re buying has it.
And that all makes leveraging sustainability and energy efficiency in the housing market very complicated. It can absolutely be done – and the builders who dedicate themselves to it will likely sell more homes in the long run. My worry is that many builders will take the path of least resistance and continue to push granite countertops while ignoring how they construct the walls and building envelope. The real win comes from offering both.