It’s time to sell some green upgrades this year, and this blog series is going to show you several ways I have “sold” them in the past. I put “sell” in quotes because I prefer to look at it like I show folks their options and they “buy” the one that’s right for them. So, this series will include, but not be limited to, selling attic ventilation, insulation, tankless water heaters, PEX plumbing, WaterSense plumbing fixtures, and radiant barrier roof decking. When not spec’d, all are options we have offered as part of building a new home or remodeling an existing home. By the way, these are never stand-alone projects we would do for anybody but a past client. So, let’s start selling radiant barriers for the attic!
First, I tell clients how they can benefit from a radiant barrier on their home and then tell them which product I prefer. I do not overwhelm them with building science or Ross Perot-style graphs showing the money they will save. I just flat out tell them a radiant barrier on the bottom of the roof deck is a no-brainer because it will make their attic cooler. Not cool, just cooler. I tell them that’s why I have one at my home and office, and then I explain how radiant barriers work according to the GBA Product Guide:
HOW TO SELL GREEN UPGRADESPart Two: Tankless Water HeatersPart Three: Energy AuditsPart Four: Exhaust FansPart Five: Electrical ImprovementsPart Six: Better InsulationPart Seven: A Few Small Things
“When they face a heat source, radiant barriers work by reflecting heat. When faced away from a heat source, radiant barriers function primarily by virtue of their low emissivity. This means that the surface does not radiate heat well. A radiant barrier surface on roof sheathing, for example, heats up from the sunlight striking the roof, but that heat energy is not readily emitted into the attic space—so that attic remains cooler. This is why the radiant barrier seems to ‘reflect’ heat back out of the building.”
Depending on the radiant barrier paint or foil product, it is not unusual to see radiant energy transfer reductions of 70% to 80%. That’s why down here in the South, where reducing cooling loads in homes is one of our largest concerns, it is so easy for me to feel evangelical about the importance of getting a radiant barrier into my client’s home.
That was it. That was my big sell. Did you miss it? No big building science charts. No estimated annual energy savings. No predictions for dollar amounts cut from energy bills. I just tell clients it is going to make their attic cooler and more comfortable. And anything they can do to reduce the heat load pounding down out of their attic into their home makes sense. But remember, these are not insulating paints, so don’t oversell this stuff. For a good primer on what to avoid when selling radiant barrier paints, visit Martin Holladay’s recent blog.
Our painter supplies the paint; I don’t. We take his turnkey price and mark it up 30% to 50% depending on the home, how crowded the attic is, and the size of the other work we have under way in the home already. Assuming nobody falls through the attic floor and into the house, it’s pretty simple work and quite easily managed by your superintendent.
If the house is on a heavily shaded lot, I tell them to skip the radiant barrier paint (and skip the solar PV, too, since it makes no sense cutting down good trees to get sunlight on the roof). But if the house has a large portion of the roof exposed to sunlight 12 hours a day during most of the year, as many in the Gulf Coast do, then a radiant barrier is a critical component of a high-performance, cooler attic.
By the way, yes, most foils have higher energy transfer reductions than the paints, but I still recommend the paints over the foils. In most attics it is virtually impossible to get 100% coverage with the foils because it is so difficult to get in the nooks and crannies of the attic for the installation. But with extensions and different spray tips, it is quite easy to get 100% coverage with the paints. Plus, the paints last longer without falling and tearing, they are more durable, and they look better. And no, it is never cost-effective to strip down an existing roof to replace the roof decking with a roof decking that has a radiant barrier laminated to the bottom of it. Radiant barrier roof decking is typically only cost-effective for new homes or room additions, and in those applications we include them standard.
Since a radiant barrier is only one of three parts of a high-performance attic here in the South, we’ll look at how to sell the other two components—attic ventilation and insulation—soon.