Survey: How Consumers and Builders Feel About Green Homes

by Tom Halford

Here is the reality about green homes: they reduce carbon footprints, save consumers money on utility bills, and improve the health of children living in the home as a result of better air quality and other related factors. In a society with a growing focus on environmental sustainability, green homes are not just a potential future; they’re forming a part of our present.
But the reality about green homes and what the public actually thinks about them are not always one and the same. In fact, they can be disparate enough that it would warrant continued action by organizations supporting green homes to increase awareness about the benefits of these homes and to dispel any myths.
Whirlpool Corporation is interested in seeing that green building takes hold in our society. Whirlpool has been a partner of Habitat for Humanity for years, donating ranges and ENERGY STAR® qualified refrigerators to new Habitat homes built in the United States and Canada as well as supporting Habitat’s work around the world, and engaging employees to volunteer with their local Habitat organizations. To gauge public perception on the topic of green homes, Whirlpool and Habitat teamed up with NAHB Research Center – an independent subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) – to survey consumers and builders on what they think is the state of affordable and green housing in the United States. Whirlpool is releasing the results from this survey in a series, with the first set of results on the affordability of green homes released in November 2010 and the second, identifying barriers to green homes released in January 2011.

The survey found that builders and consumers generally perceive green homes as affordable to live in but more expensive to purchase. In fact, among consumers, 67 percent of high-income respondents said they believe a completely green home would be affordable to live in or maintain. The same answer was given by 65 percent of upper middle income, 59 percent of middle income and 48 percent of low income consumer respondents.
But, when asked if a green home would be affordable to purchase, only high income respondents answered mostly in the affirmative, with a total of 71 percent, compared to 47 percent of low-income respondents who said that they believe a completely green home would not be affordable for them to purchase.

The builder portion of the survey found that 87 percent believe green homes are affordable for middle-income families to live in, but 30 percent felt green homes were not affordable for the segment to purchase or build. The disparity is even more evident when asked about low-income families. A total of 70 percent of home builders said they believe green homes are affordable to live in for this segment, but almost 60 percent thought green homes were not affordable for low-income families to purchase or build.

However, the survey also demonstrated that the public is generally in favor of a continued effort for creating more green homes. It showed that 64 percent of respondents indicated that savings from green home features were sometimes worth the added costs and efforts. And, 77 percent of consumers feel that green homes are at least somewhat, if not very, important to them. And they note that green homes are important because of the positive impact on the environment, the long-term financial savings, and the health benefits for the family. It seems clear that the public believes in the importance of green homes, so what do consumers and builders believe will help them become more affordable? According to the survey, the answer lies in reduced prices on materials for construction. A total of 59 percent of consumers indicated that lower cost of products and materials is needed for green homes to become more affordable and 75 percent of builders agreed with this.

Another change consumers mentioned that can make green homes affordable is an increase in incentives for sustainable building and remodeling. Of all respondents, 53 percent felt that increasing incentives for homeowners would help with green home affordability, and 36 percent suggested increasing incentives for builders. In addition, 69 percent of consumers indicated they believe state and federal governments should provide incentives for purchasing green building products. Among builder respondents, 40 percent believed that incentives for both homeowners and builders would help promote green building.

This survey underscores a case for the viability of green building to protect the environment and save money. More findings from the study will be released throughout the year. While these will undoubtedly offer additional insight into how we can all help promote green building, the findings we have thus far clearly show us that this is something the public is looking for. It’s up to the companies and organizations involved in green building to help educate the public further on why this is such an important endeavor and why it can be affordable to all.

Editor’s note: In a earlier post in this series, Shon Anderson, VP of Energy Solutions at Schneider Electric points out that 70-75% of the total life-cycle cost of a building is in operation and maintenance and only 20-25% is tied up in the purchase price. Why then do we allow the high initial cost to be such a barrier? These costs should be amortized of the home’s life cycle. This would be a great opportunity, not only for government subsidies, but for the financial industry to step forward and provide mechanisms to make this happen.

Tom Halford is general manager, contract sales and marketing at Whirlpool Corporation.

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