Most consumers aren't looking for a LEED label on a new home, but they are looking for high performance and comfort. That's the consensus from builders and other industry professionals who have participated in the EEBA Conference and Expo in the Dallas area and the Local Toolbox session in Phoenix, Arizona this year.
The short-term trends in the industry point to a growing consumer desire for high performance, above the base-line code level. Some builders see high performance building as a differentiator in the market; others adopt a wait-and-see attitude to balance the market realities of costs vs. expectations.
Here's an overview of insights and trends shared by building professionals in exclusive conversations with ProudGreenHome.com:
Phil Crone, executive officer of the Dallas Builder's Association
"When it comes to the adoption and acceptance of higher performance ecologically sensitive building practices, we know that it's a challenge for some builders and an opportunity for others, we do know that the greater the challenge the greater our responsibility to educate those folks. I've been proud of builders in the Dallas area and thrilled with the progress that we've made and some of the classes that we've held together with the Dallas Builders' Association and Houses That Work have really helped drive the market and I think that's benefited the consumer and it's benefited our industry."
Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of the Shelton Group
When we ask in our survey of people that are intending to buy a new home, we give them a list of 20 features and ask which of these are the "must haves" in your new home, the top 5 must haves are energy efficient or water efficient.
So people want this although they might not say the words the right way or ask for it the right way.
I get frustrated with for builders who say nobody is asking me for it or no, they're not going to pay more for it. That's an excuse. Nobody was asking for an iPhone before Steve Jobs invented it, and yet we all went out to get it at huge price point over what our flip phones were at the time.
So I would challenge all builders and manufacturers to get ahead of the market, the interest is there. People are getting increasingly concerned about climate and what's happening and they're beginning to feel like they should do something but they don't know what to do.
I think there's an opportunity for builders and manufacturers to be leaders and to speak to things people are concerned about, with the right solutions that consumers don't know how to articulate.
Sam Rashkin, chief architect with the Building Technologies Office, U.S. Department of Energy
The next trend in high performance homes is that you better watch out for the informed consumer. It's said 90 percent of homebuyers go to a website before they go buy a home.
But the amount of content they're getting right now is a fraction of what it will be. So watch out for the informed consumer. It's going to drive their understanding and their preference for high performance and also the risk to the home building industry not to provide it.
Another development is new ways to address cost factors associated with high performance homes, and clearly there's a myth that they cost much more. We recognize that very often it takes more first cost investment to get a home to high performance. Not always, but clearly often it does. And even when it does, we're going to have to also be prepared for the smarter home buyer that will realize they don't care as much about the sticker price as much as the ownership cost.
I think it will be come more obvious to the informed consumer that they get to own and experience a house that has so much more to offer, at lower cost per month if they invest in a high performance home.
And a lot of us will continue to inform consumers and the experts will be getting that message out.
Rob Howard, performance construction manager, Mitsubishi Electric Cooling and Heating
The heating and cooling loads on new homes are starting to get lower and lower, and conventional equipment is starting to get oversized for these really tight, low load homes.
Mini splits are relatively new in the US market while they are very common in Asia, Europe, Central America and other parts of the world. Builders are just starting to get more familiar with this technology and so our purpose in being here is to help builders understand this is not just for the bonus room any more. So that's where a company like Mitsubishi is a natural partner for these programs because we have equipment that is capable of meeting the loads in these tighter homes.
Steve Saunders, Tempo Partners
One of our businesses is energy and green rating, we work in 30 states and three foreign countries, we have 10 offices in the U.S. and one office in the United Arab Emirates. Since 2003 we have verified about 55,000 Energy Star homes and we do lots of other green home programs as well.
And the real issue in how we pursue that in our efficiency and green business is, we have to communicate the value, because we're in the land of Texas and it's full of skeptics and there are extremely high quality companies that in California, New York help people meet building codes there. In Texas, people are opposed to regulation so you have to deliver value and communicate value. If you can communicate value in Texas, you can communicate value anywhere else in the world.
Claudette Reichel, extension housing specialist with the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service and director of LaHouse Resource Center
The marketplace is changing; the consumers are not a uniform body of people. The various age groups really have different values and different needs. But sustainability has been part of what the millennials have grown up with, so that is kind of a cultural shift, it's an expectation to not do too much damage to the planet and do their part. So being green may not be the number one motive in making a decision, it's one of the factors and it can be a deal breaker if you're too far to the other end.
People want to be green because it makes them feel good, and decisions are based on more on emotion than they are sheer rational reason and logic. They're not doing for the technology, they're doing it for the benefits and one of the benefits is to do my part to be good environmental citizen.
Dean Gamble, technical manager, Energy Star for Homes, US EPA.
I've been involved with the industry long enough to see all the great strides we've made in the last 10-15 years, which as been a real journey of showing the very basics to the industry in how to move forward on the high performance path. Now that we've gotten there you can see how much further we can go, and want to go, to really deliver the experience to homeowners that most don't even know is available to them still today.
It's the amazing then, when you actually get into these homes where all these things have been done and you see the drop in comfort complaints and you see lower utility bills and you see potentially improved indoor air quality its just stuff most homeowners didn't even realize was possible.
I think we have a long ways to go to meet the expectations of homeowners but also educate them to have even higher expectations about what their homes should deliver. Because it can be so much more than what most homeowners experience today.
Martins Pecholcs, regional development manager, Covestro
Green building is not a convoluted concept, people in the industry talk about gadgets and controls, but it's really about building an envelope that's air tight and ventilated right and the mechanical system is properly sized, you have proper ventilation to provide quality air to the occupants and provide comfort with a balanced atmosphere in the home. Most people experience comforts falsely by having a fan or having heat directly to them. You want to walk into a home that's properly designed so it is comfortable all year around.
Marla Esser, Green Home Coach
High performance is only one name for the kinds of homes that are being built today. I am finding in my experience that so many builders and people in the home industry are doing green building and don't even realize it. So this whole idea of high performance homes is one way for us to bring the value to the home industry so people understand they are getting some thing better. It also scares a lot of people. They think it's something different or something that will act funny or something that will be really expensive.
I think is key is that people are talking about the value of those homes and the long term benefit that it brings to them, it's part of a bigger equation. When you buy a car, you don't just look at the price of the car, you look at how much it's going to cost to maintain it. It's the same with our homes, and getting people to understand how that plays a part in their life is huge.
Gary Klein, president of Gary Klein & Associates
All across the country in high performance homes the thermal loads are so small the equipment is so efficient, the lights are so efficient, that water heating is often the biggest load in the building. What are we going to do about that? Just change the water heater technology? No. There are other issues; it's all part of a system.
I think that for builders, water heating is the next frontier of efficiency. We can make it perform significantly better than the average, we can reduce time to tap to seconds as opposed to minutes, and we can increase the efficiency of the heating of it so the energy consumption drops by half, we can capture waste heat which drops it again, we can put better fixtures and appliances in, which drops it again.
And, by the way need a smaller water heater just like in HVAC because we fixed all the other things, and we have happier customers. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing.
Gale Tedhams, director of sustainability, Owens Corning
What we see today is trying to help people become more approachable to sustainable building through what the consumer is actually going to experience: comfort, health, safety, living in a home that's affordable as well as high performance because frankly people have a lot of other things to spend their money on besides energy. And they want to be assured that the home they're going to moving into is going to be one that is going to last and be durable and work for them for years to come.
CR Herro, vice president of environmental affairs, Meritage Homes
Once the mortgage industry changes how they value the operating cost of the home, buyers will be able to afford different homes based on how much they cost to operate. Then real estate agents will understand it, which means the real estate transaction process will have to reflect it. Any builder regardless of their philosophy will build whatever the buyers want. Once the buyers start understanding the true cost of ownership and start making smart decisions, they will want homes that are built right.
/ Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.