Builders must improve the way they talk to consumers about green building (photos)

Builders must improve the way they talk to consumers about green building (photos)

Story and photo by Steve Arel.

As teachers in the classroom that is residential construction, builders generally don’t score well in how they educate consumers on the benefits of sustainable and high-performance homes.

Part of the shortcomings is knowledge-based. Part is presentation-based.

See a slide show of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe here.

Focus groups put together recently by found the selling process less than appealing. They said they were overwhelmed by technical-speak, benefits aren’t expressed well and customers are often told not what they want but what the builder wants.

In a word, they describe the experience as “dreadful.”

“You can’t just do an information dump,” said Matt Belcher, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Committee. “You’ll lose them.”

Of course, that’s not to say builders don’t know their craft. They do.

Manson Peppers, president of Blue Ridge Cedar Homes, watches a demonstration illustrating how paint made with ceramic pigments can deflect sunlight from a metal roof.

The assets of high-performance construction need to be explained in ways that inspire and compel people to want to buy. Some points of focus:

  • Sticker shock can turn off many home buyers. But oftentimes, the initial cost of high-performance homes includes everything on their wish list – high-tech appliances, lavish bathroom fittings and top-of-the-line furnishings – that tend to be nice-to-have items, but not must-haves.
  • Minimizing the price is a matter of encouraging customers to settle for less in amenities up front that don’t affect home performance as much as other materials like foam insulation and energy recovery ventilation systems. Money saved over time can be used later to purchase items that were nixed in the pre-construction phase.
  • Home operating expenses make up close to 30 percent of what buyers pay for housing each month, much of that is driven by utility costs. Bills can be reduced significantly by a high-performance home, coming in as little as $20 or $30 a month, depending on local utility rates.
  • Future owners of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe, with a projected Home Energy Rating System Index of -2 will actually produce more energy than it consumes, theoretically making money for the occupants each month.
  • High-performance homes are outfitted with efficient mechanical equipment that isn’t required to work nearly as hard as in a standard structure, thus requiring fewer tweaks and repairs. They are also sealed in a tight home envelope that prevents moisture and other potentially harmful pollutants from penetrating the building. All those combined prevent the growth of mold and mildew, keeping the walls and foundation sound for years.

The obvious – and not so obvious – benefits to owning a high-performance home adds up to real value. In the event the owner opts to sell, they are able to highlight advantages that can justify their asking price.

Builders are encountering a more knowledgeable consumer base, thanks to the Internet. But they still don’t have all the answers. Builders are pivotal in bridging the gap between what consumers know and what they don’t know.

For companies just beginning to shift toward high-performance construction – and even for those that have focused on efficiency for some time – there are tools available to help them become better educators:

  • Conduct online research that offers insight and information on sustainability and high-performance. features a host of links to extensive free resources.
  • Attend seminars organized by agencies whose missions center on more efficient construction, like Southface and the National Association of Home Builders. Some sessions can be completed in as little as a day.
  • Connect with builders and designers in your area who are willing to share their insight, regardless of whether you’re a competitor. A number of builders and designers are focused on promoting deep green practices and encouraging the adoption of efficient construction methods than on strong-holding knowledge for fear of losing business.

Read more about the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.

Exterior photo by James Moses, Bisig Impact Group, © 2013

Topics: Building Green, Cost of Ownership, NAHB, Proud Green Home at Serenbe, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Sustainable Products

Companies:, Southface Energy Institute, Kohler, BASF Corporation, PPG Pittsburgh Paints, Sustainably Built, Kleendeck, LLC, Bisig Impact Group, Serenbe Sustainable Community, LG Squared, Inc., The Imery Group, Benjamin Obdyke, Zehnder America, SmartBIM, Huber Engineered Woods, Wood-Mode, Inc.

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