Once you've challenged yourself to be the greenest remodeler you can be, the next challenge is: How do you sell efficient, sustainable projects to customers? How do you go about convincing them that, say, upgrading insulation is a better investment than putting in new granite countertops? And how do you make a case for saving the environment?
Marc Richmond suggests that you not even try, at least on that last count. To remodelers making a foray into this niche, he advises leaving the green-wash mentality at the door.
“There's this tendency for green builders to try to get others to understand the reasons they like green, to make them socially conscious thinkers or whatever,” says Richmond, a former builder who is now president of green-building consulting company Practica Consulting (www.practicaconsulting.com). “They say, ‘You should use this product because it's better for the earth, blah blah blah.' And that's a fatal flaw. It's an attitude that can turn customers off.”
You can sell customers on the idea, however, by touting benefits such as lower utility bills, better air quality, and more durable materials.
Aaron Lubeck of Trinity Design Build in Durham, N.C., steers clear of the words “green building” entirely, since some people associate it with “fringe practices and hippies,” he says. Instead, he presents green strategies as smart building practices.
“If I say, ‘I know of a way to make your house more durable, lower your energy bill, and make you more comfortable. Are you interested?' what do you think they'll say? Even Attila the Hun wants to be more comfortable,” says Lubeck, whose outfit is the only remodeling company in town that embraces green renovations.
By Lubeck's logic, you might talk about the benefits of an air-exchange system, how it makes the breathable air healthier. Or you'd talk about the benefits of adding more insulation, how it lowers the monthly operating cost of a home and how easy it would be to add while you're already doing work on a room. And only then would you say, “Oh, and your home will also be more energy-efficient. And, by virtue of all those things I just mentioned, it will leave a smaller footprint.”
TAILORED PITCH Listening to the client talk about his or her priorities will help you frame the discussion, Richmond says.
Are you dealing with a mom with young kids who cares about indoor air quality? Then gear your pitch toward that. Are you talking to a 43-year-old conservative banker who doesn't want to hassle with maintenance on his home? Talk about how durable and good-looking the products are. For someone who gravitates toward high-tech features, tout how cool solar panels are, and show off the digital readout on a fresh-air exchanger.
“They're all buying the same house because it has the same elements, but your sales pitch differs,” Richmond says.
The fact is, many homeowners have already been exposed to green building — they know a neighbor who just put in some newfangled insulation, or they've seen a high-performance showerhead online. But even those who've heard of it are unsure about precisely what it means.
“The biggest barrier to doing and selling green remodeling is a lack of information,” Richmond says. “People think it means using straw bales to build, or that it costs 50% more, or that it's lower quality. So I show pictures of beautiful green remodeling projects, and say, ‘It looks like this.' Much of the work at the beginning is myth busting.”
GETTING THE WORD OUT Using your Web site is one way to educate consumers about how this type of building is different. It allows potential clients to read up on what green building is, how it can benefit them, and what they can do around the house to save energy.
Some remodelers also use their sites to establish their own green credibility. They tout their commitment to green building, show off projects that are saving money for customers, and talk about how they practice efficiency on the business side. For example, Jackson Remodeling in Seattle uses its Web site to tell potential customers, “As just one part of our effort to tread more lightly on this fragile planet, we use B20 biodiesel in our diesel truck.”
And that leads to the next challenge: How do you market yourself as a green-building professional? Start by doing an analysis of past projects to figure out where you have expertise. Have you installed insulation for clients that goes beyond what code requires? Switched to no-VOC paints? Set up a grinder on jobsites? Find any green-building rating system (such as the LEED system created by the U.S. Green Building Council) and score your projects against it, to see where you land. Odds are, if you've been doing high-quality construction, you've been doing green remodeling at some level without even realizing it.
Then network through national conferences — such as GreenBuild and the National Green Building Conference — and local green-building groups. One advantage to networking is that you'll quickly learn, by listening to other remodelers, where you are and where to go next. You might hear, “I was where you are two years ago, and here's what I did ...”
A local green-building group can often lend extra marketing power. In Atlanta, for example, many green remodelers have turned to EarthCraft House, which has an offshoot devoted to renovations. Once members, contractors can sign up for training (from “An Introduction to Building Science” to “Preventing Mold”), use the EarthCraft logo in their advertising materials, put a listing on EarthCraft's Web site, or call for advice.
Lubeck tapped into the marketing power of a local green-building group in yet another way. He worked with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association to get one of his spec homes put on a green-building tour last fall.
“We were the only existing home on our area's tour,” Lubeck says. “Everything else was new construction, so we kind of stood out. People thought, ‘I have an existing home. Maybe I can retrofit greener.' We got a ton of traffic, and we probably got three or four new clients right after that tour.
“It's a simple grass-roots thing to do to show people your work — and most remodelers aren't doing it.”
Alice Bumgarner is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. When she's not covering the remodeling industry, she writes about food, travel, and parenting. Her work has been published in Salon, Sky, and Town & Country magazines, among others.