Spreading the word on sustainability drives the market for high-performance homes

Spreading the word on sustainability drives the market for high-performance homes

Story and photo by Steve Arel.

Matt Belcher’s approach to open houses might seem a bit unorthodox and potentially threatening to his thriving construction business.

Whenever the St. Louis builder stages an event, he invites everyone, prospective buyers, real estate agents, even his competition.

The hope, beyond the obvious task of trying to sell the home, is part of a philosophy Belcher shares with ProudGreenHome.com: to accelerate the widespread adoption of sustainable and efficient building practices.

Matt Belcher

Showing fellow builders how to best incorporate building science techniques into high-performance homes is an effective way to further the cause and help consumers find increased value in their investment, Belcher told a gathering of a few dozen builders and manufacturers Saturday at a luncheon wrapping up the unveiling of the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.

“We’re not afraid,” he said. “We love to compete, and we want to be the best. The best way to raise the bar on ourselves is to raise the bar on our competition.”

Belcher, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Committee in addition to his personal business, joined the industry representatives from across the country to celebrate the opening of the Proud Green Home. His address was intended to get attendees to focus on finding ways to better articulate the advantages of high-performance homes to American consumers.

When it comes to selling high-performance homes, buyers and builders tend to fixate on numbers. Buyers focus on the price tag. On the other hand, builders key in on certification scores and energy ratings that boggle the layman’s mind.

See Matt Belcher explain the benefits of another green home here.

The secret to selling high-performance homes, Belcher said, is bridging the disconnect by getting prospective customers to understand the value of purchasing a home that works in their favor. And builders must do so in a manner that connects with them and in terms they can easily comprehend.

“We don’t sell green,” Belcher said. “We build a high-quality, high-performance home that, at the end of the day, green happens because of what we do.”

Instead, his pitch starts by looking at the customer’s budget. The largest piece of the monthly home-ownership pie is the mortgage, followed by operating expenses that consume about 30 percent of spending.

Belcher aims to cut in half what someone might shell out for electricity, water and maintenance.

He transitions into showing them that the way to do that is by viewing the whole home as a set of systems, all working together toward efficiency. He then focuses on design and creating a solid envelope that will seal the home tightly throughout its life.

The result: Belcher closes 90 to 100 percent of deals on high-performance homes once the benefits are explained.

“We’re cutting utility bills in half or close to nothing,” he said.

Beyond that, efficiency creates equity for owners, enabling them to reinvest in their homes, to put more money in their pockets and to strengthen the potential resale value.

“You can do this at affordable levels,” Belcher said. “You just need to think about how to do it.”

Builders must figure out what works best for each situation and each customer. Planning is vital, he said. But builders can’t be so focused on achieving certification and ratings for projects that the customer and their needs get overlooked.

“Numbers are impressive,” Belcher said. “But customers don’t understand them. … It’s like a Sleep Number to them.”

In adequately articulating benefits and how a high-performance home functions, builders and developers become advocates for the customer. Then, by the time the development nears the end, the owner understands why certain techniques were incorporated, why certain equipment is in place and how it works with the rest of the home.

“You better not wait till the end to educate that homeowner,” Belcher said. “The education starts when we say hello.”

Read more about the Proud Green Home at Serenbe.

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, NAHB, Proud Green Home at Serenbe, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Sustainable Communities, Trends / Statistics

Companies: U.S. EPA, NAHB, ProudGreenHome.com, Southface Energy Institute, Serenbe Sustainable Community, LG Squared, Inc., The Imery Group

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