Musings following the NAHB International Builders’ ShowBuilt Environment, Efficiency & Conservation
Early each year, the building industry gathers at the annual National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show. More than 1,500 exhibitors with everything from fancy shower heads and bath tubs to beautiful kitchen cabinets and windows made attendees like me want to 1) build a house and 2) make lots of additions to my “Dream Home” Pinterest board. Aside from my new “pins,” here are my other takeaways from IBS. Green/high-performance home building is on the rise. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but I felt like there was something related to green/high-performance building everywhere you looked. And that’s good for the industry because in our latest Energy Pulse study, 81 percent of those surveyed said energy efficiency would have somewhat to very much impact on their selection decision when comparing two homes. But not all homebuilders are on the green building bandwagon. There was a session built around green “stuff” that’s not what it’s cracked up to be and “building science without the eco-bling,” so there are still some who haven’t fully bought into the green building movement. What’s ironic is that this is not too far from American homebuyer sentiment. When we asked respondents in our 2010 Green Living Pulse study how interested they would be in purchasing a “green” vs. an “energy-efficient” home, 64% said they were interested in buying/renting an energy-efficient home, compared to only 43% who were interested in a green home. In focus groups, we’ve found that green homes are considered a little out there for a lot of consumers – in other words, not for “normal” people. Those building high-performance homes need to find a way to help homeowners brag. In a session specific to marketing green homes, the speaker stressed that humans are emotional beings, and that we often make purchases because of what those purchases say about us. He used designer purses as an example – you don’t buy a designer bag because it performs better than other purses; you buy it for the label. He suggested high-performance homebuilders come up with a way to give green homes the equivalent of a hybrid logo for a car – something that allows the homeowner to show off their high-performing, energy-efficient home. High-performance homebuilders need to help customers understand their green home. The green marketing session also covered consumers’ need for a better understanding of what they’re buying when they purchase a high-performance home. Our research agrees. For our latest Energy Pulse study, we provided a list of terms and phrases (e.g., net zero and indoor air quality) that have become part of the vernacular within the construction and energy efficiency communities and asked respondents to check the terms they could confidently and correctly explain to a friend. At best, almost half (45%) thought they could explain “efficient home,” but 70% or more couldn’t explain any of the other terms. In other words, there is a learning curve when it comes to green, high-performing homes, and we need to help ease that curve for homeowners. In addition, we know that less than half of homeowners with a programmable thermostat have actually programmed it. And some consumers who’ve purchased more energy-efficient HVAC equipment actually admit to using warmer/cooler settings than they used to because the more efficient units allow them to splurge without increasing their bill. There’s definitely a need to go beyond the sale to teach buyers how to properly use the tools they get in an energy-efficient home. If you went to IBS this year, I’d love to hear your takeaways, too!