Thanks to rising utility costs and greater environmental awareness, the No. 1 unmet housing concern among homeowners is energy efficiency. According to a 2014 national survey of more than 100,000 households from the Demand Institute, a division of the Conference Board that aims to show evolving consumer demand, 71% of households said that energy efficiency was important to them, but only 35% felt their homes were energy efficient.
The report also noted that energy efficiency is the “number one satisfaction gap” among homeowners. “A desire for energy efficiency will drive renovations, maintenance, and new technology use,” the report said.
Rising energy costs are behind much of that desire. The report notes that average home electricity spending has grown 56% since 2000, while other household expenses grew at 38%. “This has many households looking for ways to make their homes more energy efficient—90% of households have taken some measure in the past five years to consume less energy,” the report indicated.
Those findings jibe with another survey of remodelers, which shows only 8% of homeowners “hardly ever” initiate energy efficiency discussions related to a remodeling project, according to a National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s 2014 Remodeling Business Pulse Survey.
Here are the survey’s primary energy efficiency considerations homeowners ask about by percentage:
Amount that can be saved: 64%
Payback period: 56%
Environmental impact: 19%
So what types of energy efficiency upgrades are homeowners asking for? The NARI survey shows the following top five jobs by percentage:
Added insulation wall/attic: 71%High R windows: 65%
High efficiency furnace: 59%
High efficiency lighting: 56%
High efficiency air conditioning: 50%
But savvy contractors who specialize in this type of work don’t sell themselves as merely energy efficiency experts. Instead, they focus on the larger picture: overall home performance. That umbrella brings in comfort, health, and energy efficiency.
Robert Hamerly likens this approach to a car. “Why would you live in a 60-year-old home that operates like a 60-year-old home?” asks Hamerly, principal of GreenSavers USA. “You wouldn’t be satisfied with a car that operates like a 60-year-old car, so why would you be okay with a home like that?”
That question shows why home performance can be more lucrative than simple one-off energy efficiency replacement jobs, says Jim Lebair, president and owner of JRL Design, Inc. He says that his projects often start with an energy audit that reveals numerous issues homeowners hadn’t even considered—not to mention the effects they’re having on the home.
“It’s not just about saving money,” says Lebair, who’s also the Bucks-Mont NARI chapter education chair. “It’s also about improving comfort and indoor air quality—tying all of those together to really improve the quality of life and value of the home.”
If contractors don’t tie those ideas together, customers will, explained Dennis Gehman. “People ask where the cabinets come from; how far; do they use sustainable wood?, the owner of Gehman Custom Remodeling said in the NARI survey. “We’re asked about VOCs and off gassing of materials for health and environmental concerns.”
But becoming a high-performance contractor isn’t as simple as just adding it to your list of services, warns Lebair. “It takes a tremendous amount of education to understand the building science aspect of it,” he says. “A lot of contractors are just too busy swinging the hammer and getting the contract in.”