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Green Building Curmudgeon

Why Single-Family Green Homes Are Slow to Catch On

Our ‘more and bigger’ mindset is the problem

American homes are still getting bigger. According to U.S. Census data, the size of single-family homes, after a brief dip, is back on the rise.
Image Credit: Builder Magazine

As a counterpoint the the optimism I expressed in my last post about multifamily green buildings, recent discussions with single-family builders leave me feeling less than enthusiastic about the prospects for green single-family housing.

I recently had lunch with the local head of a large national builder who expects to build about 500 homes per year in several Georgia suburbs. I attempted (in vain, it turns out) to convince him that there was value in building better quality homes – that they could design for high performance from the beginning rather than use standard stock plans. I ran on about tighter envelopes, centrally located HVAC systems zoned for multiple floors and with compact duct systems, pointing out that increases in some areas could offset higher costs in others.

He said his company did not want to spend a nickel more than the approximately $48 per square foot they were building for. In addition, he said something memorable: that his customers wouldn’t buy a house with one HVAC system when his competitors’ homes had two. They would feel like they were being shortchanged, regardless of how the house performed.

This point resonated with me, and made me realize that we need to change consumer perceptions to make high-performance homes desirable.

Send in the reinforcements

The following day I met with another builder, a client of mine who is building about 10 homes in a small in-town subdivision. I mentioned my discussion with the production builder about the number of HVAC systems he installs in each home, and his response reinforced the other builder’s position.

He said that if there isn’t a separate HVAC system on each floor of a house, buyers think they are not getting their money’s worth. And they think that bigger systems are better than smaller ones. He said he can usually get away with a zoned system for the third floor attic area, but if he were to install a single system to condition a two- or three-story house, he would have trouble selling it even if the buyers were told it was more efficient and would work perfectly well.

More and bigger is what they want

According to several reports, after a brief period where home sizes remained stable or reduced, new single-family home sizes are back on the rise.

I had hoped that the industry and consumers had learned some sort of lesson from the last real estate crash, but it appears that they haven’t. People still want big homes, and with mortgage rates at historic lows and energy prices lower due to expanded natural gas resources, there may be little to stop this trend.

And with those big houses, people want more and bigger equipment: refrigerators, ranges, showers, and HVAC systems. I must say, it was a pretty dispiriting week of builder conversations for me, tempering some of my optimism about multifamily housing. Time for a drink.

30 Comments

  1. Steve Knapp CZ 3A Georgia | | #1

    Just watch the home shows
    I am not in the construction industry but have noticed a consistent behavior whenever watching any of the home-buying programs on HGTV. The buyers always ask about the flooring (wood is preferred), the counter tops (give me granite, or else), the appliances (must be stainless steel), the closets (massive for someone's shoe collection), and the garage (darn, it's doesn't have four-car holes). I don't think I've ever heard a conversation about the home's utility usage, space efficiency, or promotion of air quality. It's never part of the conversation, which is sad.

    PS. Carl, you know where I live, and I bet you would find the same attitudes among the residents of our "green" oasis (and likely among many of the builders and subs who build here). The construction costs here are also several times $48 per square foot.

  2. Lucy Foxworth | | #2

    We have to tell a better story
    It's clear that we have to tell a better story. We have to frame things better to reach more people.

    How to do that? I don't really know.

    Proceedings from the National Academy of Science published a study in April 2013 titled "Political Ideology affects Energy-Efficiency Attitudes and Choices". The amazing thing was that if a light bulb was labeled as being good for the environment, the more politically conservative were less likely to buy it.

    Abstract here: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/04/26/1218453110

    Another way to think about it is - that the package design of this energy-efficient product did not sell itself effectively. There is a way. We just have to find it. Emphasize comfort, less heat generated from bulb, saves money, long- lasting. Example: "Tired of changing light bulbs all the time? Product X lasts 5 times longer than a standard bulb. No more standing on ladders for those hard to reach lights, buy product X light bulb - the long-lasting bulb."

    For a well air-sealed house, "Tired of dusting, vacuuming all the time? Allergies acting up? This home uses an ERV/HRV to bring in fresh filtered air devoid of allergens and dust. Breathe easier in this home."

    You get the idea.

  3. User avater GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #3

    Are the builders lying?
    I have trouble believing that more than a tiny fraction of homeowners could tell you how many HVAC systems are in their house. Do home buyers actually look in the attics and crawl spaces?

  4. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #4

    I wish I knew
    Allison: I'm just reporting what two builders told me in two days. I have no reason to expect that they are lying about their experience with homeowners. Even though many purchasers don't know much about HVAC, apparently enough of them ask how many systems there are, or if there is one for each floor. I suspect that real estate agents have learned to sell multiple systems as a feature, one that avoids the stratification of a single system in older homes, so buyers start asking for them

    Lucy: I agree that the building industry needs to figure out how to sell high performance homes in a way that they appeal to more people. One problem is that many or most of them don't want to think about change, don't want to experiment with new ideas, and are worried that any perception that their product isn't as good as the next guy's can cost them a sale. Consumer education that creates demand for better homes is the only way to make it happen. We can't expect enough of the industry to do it themselves to make the change.

  5. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #5

    Sell 'em some mini-splits?
    It's pretty easy to design high-efficiency systems that aren't grossly oversized for the loads at 1-3 ductless heads per floor. It's not always going cheaper than barely-legal SEER oversized ducted systems, 1- per floor, but sometimes it would be. But then you'd have to fight the issues about whether you need a heating/cooling source per room, I suppose... (and it may be embedded as a requirement in some local codes or banking/finance checklist.)

    Tract builders aren't all that interested in designing HVAC and calculating loads based on the site & orientation though, especially since it doesn't attract a higher price. I suspect even with the same house design, oversize the HVAC for the worst-case orientation/shading, then run with it at the standard, saving time & money by not having to re-spec each house, buying the units in volume.

    In CA under Title 24 it's supposed to be a bit harder to get away with that approach since oversizing by more than 15% over Manual-J is expressly disallowed, but it's not clear that there is a sufficient wealth of competence among the code enforcers to really say that's happening. I'm sure it is some locations, not so much in others, but it's at least a start.

  6. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #6

    Mini splits are great, but..
    Dana - I love your mini split idea, in fact I installed them in my house last year, but they would cost quite a bit more than a typical ducted system. Also, most people really don't like the wall mounted models, and most building envelopes around here aren't tight enough to get away without a lot of ducts. And at $48 per SF, mini splits are going to be hard to fit into the budget.

    Building is (mostly) a slow to evolve industry. Very few builders are willing to take the plunge into anything new, particularly big, public ones who are only about the short term bottom line. They are unlikely to change anything that works.

  7. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #7

    I hear you... (response to Carl)
    At $48/foot I don't see how they can even be paying legal wages, let alone designing the HVAC to the sizing-edge with mini-splits.

    No-name mini-splits can still be pretty cheap though- you don't have to go with Daikin/Mitsubishi/Fujitsu o get something reasonably efficient. And if you two 3-ton ducted systems for a 2 ton peak load, even barely-legal ducted systems installed with $9hr labor aren't really free. But where there's a "source per room" requirement it would drive ductless costs skyward even for no-name Chinese multi-splits using mini-duct heads to split output between adjacent rooms.

    I'm curious "...building envelopes around here aren't tight enough to get away without a lot of ducts". Has GA yet to adopt IRC 2009, and thus a code-max 7ACH/50 leakage? (That's barely a stripe on the floor, let alone a hurdle to clear- you barely have to even TRY to hit that in plywood or OSB sheathed houses, and can usually be retrofitted to that level by closing just a few of the truly big holes.)

    OK, I looked it up-

    Even though primary building codes are base on IRC 2006, it looks like GA has adopted the 2009 IECC: http://www.iccsafe.org/gr/Pages/GA.aspx

    Which also has a 7ACH/50 limit- see section 402.4.2, (page 43 of .pdf pagination, page 30 of printed pagination.). Is that requirement even on the radar of most builders & inspectors yet?

  8. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #8

    Code and reality
    We have adopted the 2009 code including envelope testing and testing of ducts that are outside the envelope. As a matter of fact, DET testing, as it is referred to around here, is becoming a noticeable piece of my business these days. As you are well aware, 7 ACH50 is actually pretty leaky, and most of my builders beat it, some by a little, some by a lot. When I do these tests, I see lots of code violations (missing air barriers, insulation, and air sealing), but I am not in a position to enforce this, that is the job of the inspectors. When I do building certifications (LEED, EarthCraft, NGBS) I am in a position to enforce the program requirements which always meet or exceed the IECC, and often I come in after the building inspector and before drywall and see all sorts of IECC violations that the building inspector missed, mostly because they just don't know the code and many of the building departments don't worry about enforcing it.

    That said, although room by room distribution is not a legal requirement (as far as I know) I can't see how any builder who is worried that they can't sell a house with a single system could sell mini splits. It all comes back to informed consumers knowing good from bad. In general, consumers know much more about their cars, phones, and appliances than their homes, mostly because it is much easier to compare manufactured products than site built homes.

    The silver lining in this whole situation is that the industry is evolving slowly enough that I see good job security for consultants like me

  9. Nicholas Jensen | | #9

    Peer pressure them to conform
    The trick may be to get builders and homeowners to believe that their competition/neighbors are already building/buying green homes: http://tinyurl.com/n4wpcu2

    Keeping up with the Joneses seems to be a more powerful motivator than saving money or 'being green'.

  10. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #10

    Great TED talk
    Then again they are all pretty good. I wrote on a related subject a while back: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-curmudgeon/nudging-us-toward-efficient-future.

    I have long believed that behavior trumps almost everything in energy efficiency.

    We can keep working and hoping to make progress on behavior change.

  11. Gordon Taylor | | #11

    Behavior Change
    This is a challenging topic, not because the facts aren't obvious but because it's hard to face reality without giving in to cynicism and despair. Carl Seville's hope for progress on behavior change is typically American in its phrasing. I don't mean that in a disparaging way; it's just that we speak so often of the need to change hearts and minds on virtually every difficult problem we face. It's hard to believe in behavior-change when we live in a country where somebody, as Lucy Foxworth notes, will avoid buying an efficient light bulb just because it aids a favorite cause of the Liberals. It reminds me of the bumpersticker I used to see when driving a bus in Seattle: "Buy a Gun," it says: "Piss off a liberal." It's the same mentality: "Don't buy fluorescents: Piss off the Environmentalists." All of which leads us to a basic American political fact: in this country we are free to be stupid, and by God we take advantage every chance we can get. Granite! Give me more Granite! And of course we worship size. Even our dried apricots, if they're a bit larger, are called "slab" apricots. If they pass a law mandating low-flow shower heads, hell, we'll put four of them in our showers. In places like Holland, Germany, and Sweden, elected officials pretty much can see the impending realities and adjust their building codes accordingly. The hearts and minds see the wisdom of the law, and they follow after it. (And guess what, in their filibuster-less universe, if the law proves inadequate they change it.) This, to my mind, is the only hope: stiffer laws, and the backbone to enforce them. Grab them by the building permit, and their hearts and minds will follow. As for the grandiosity of these houses, our only weapon is sarcasm and scorn.

  12. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #12

    My Take...
    It all comes down to builder (and Designer) education. Too many "know it all builders" do not bother to educate themselves and their staff about high performing homes and how to build and sell the same house plan as a "Green Home" for the same or slightly higher price than before; and then learn how to sell those features and life cost analysis. They have no clue on how to explain the value and advantages of a high performing house. Period.
    There are many builders who are building high-performing homes, including Production builders, that have been busy the last few years and who are having awesome 2013 because they have positioned themselves above their competition. Instead of whining they did something about it. We all know who those builders are in our market.
    Yet those same naysayers, drive a $100K car instead of a $40K car and proceed to explain to you their car advantages and why they bought it... or spend $100+ on a bottle of wine pretending to be wine connoisseurs, or better yet, I see it all the time, they buy $3K golf clubs but can't even brake 90. Laughable eh?

  13. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #13

    Don't knock granite- SUBSIDIZE it!
    There is a very real annualized energy use benefit to using stone rather than wood/plastics as a building material inside the thermal boundary of the house due to it's substantial thermal mass that shouldn't be discounted. Stone is also a very durable building material with a very long lifecycle, is fireproof, emits no VOCs (though the radon output of some granite is higher than the professional worriers would like)- it's nice stuff, and pretty green on the whole.

    ( Now about that marble staircase... :-) )

    The amount of subsidy appropriate for use of stone would be commensurate on the actual thermal benefit, and sized relative to the benefit of other subsidized thermal upgrades though, which would usually be pretty small relative to the cost of granite floors & counters, etc. There is surely cheaper thermal mass to be built into a house, but there's nothing wrong with granite as a building material, with benefits beyond mere NPV on energy use savings.

    Selling the energy performance of a house is better done by pointing out the higher comfort of tight, high-R houses rather than focusing merely on the IRR & NPV on highly speculative future energy costs & savings. Everybody likes comfort, but many buyers won't pay extra for the energy savings aspects unless they see a sub-3 year simple return on investment (which won't even buy you code-minimums, not even close.) Wall& ceiling surfaces that are never more than 1-2F different from the average air temp in a room, even at the local climate's outdoor temperature extremes is a comfort factor over code minimum that you can FEEL, and it's a comfort factor that can't be delivered by HVAC systems. That's likely to be the best way to sell high-performance houses to non-energy-nerds. A walk through on a very hot or very cold day, and having the prospective buyer stand close to and FEEL the walls & windows with their eyes closed can be an enlightening exercise. It's a bit harder for most to touch the upper floor ceilings, but where possible that too can work. It's a very tangible way to explain the benefits of high performance houses, far more palpable than a net-present-value calculation on a spreadsheet.

  14. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #14

    To your ROI point, Dana...
    I’m designing a very large house for a Financial Advisor because I was able to show his 7.5 year ROI at 33%, and health & comfort as well. This house has a design HER score of 50. In his own words, he didn’t have any investment advice of any kind with such high ROI. It’s worth to point out that we charge 2-3 times what others charge in our area, but we also provide a lot more information, teaching and consulting with the job, and I was able to reduce the size of the house he wanted by 15%. It’s all about value and results.

  15. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #15

    Custom vs Production
    Armando - I would expect that in a custom project you would have a better chance of convincing someone to go with a high performance home. You can sit with them, discuss options, and the extra, if any) they would spend is a small percentage of the cost.

    In production/spec homes, there are many more issues: Builders don't want to change, particularly if they are selling what they produce; they throw nickels around like manhole covers and won't spend anything that raises their SF costs; as noted in the article, they are selling against lots of similar homes in the market, and if people think theirs is less due to the size or number of HVAC systems, or even the house SF, they are at a disadvantage and may lose a sale.

    It's a big problem that goes deep into the psyche of consumers and it will take a lot of work to change mindsets of both builders and home buyers.

  16. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #16

    I still disagree with your builders friends...
    I know of at least a dozen large production builders in TX, NM, OK and AZ that are outselling the competition by certifying their homes to Green Programs AND providing energy guarantees... Just because some builders haven't figure out a way to get it done it doesn't mean that it can't be done.

  17. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #17

    But..
    None of those places are the Southeast US. Most of the volume builders that were doing certified green homes here are out of business or no longer doing it. It's just not happening here yet. I believe it can happen, but few if any are willing to give it a shot.

    One thing the production builder said to me was that he might consider building better homes in intown neighborhoods where people were willing to pay a little more. Out in the burbs it is all price and I tend to believe him, although I have hope that someone could make it work if they really wanted to.

  18. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #18

    Financial advisors get the math (response to Armondo)
    The average tract home buyer don't (or at least not often enough.)

    I can believe that a financial advisor looking to live in it for the long term can do the math and come to the right decision. The average tract home buyer isn't planning on holding it for even 7.5 years, and is only interested in the resale value, and/or the simple-return at 3 years (which is why exactly why establishing code minimums is necessary.)

    Even people who CAN do the math often don't. There's an engineer in my office heating his open floor plan house with oil who hasn't taken up my recommendation to a mini-split even though it would clearly pay for itself in 3 years even in simple-basis in his case, on the grounds that he may be moving in less than 5 years, even though there is 7-year 0% money available for doing that though state subsidized programs. (You can lead a horse to water... even show him the crayon-on-napkin math...) And that's a pretty simple calculation compared to high-R houses.

    When you have a prospective buyer who is in it for the long term and actually understands math, the fact that the additional mortgage cost of the upcharge is substantially subsidized in tax deductions, and that the utility savings are all reaped in after-tax dollars it becomes a LOT easier to make the financial case at ANY discount rate or presumed fuel price inflation.

    In-between, there's a wealth of ignorance out there amongst buyers on the math front, but most people will appreciate a 75F wall temp on the sunny side of the house maintained at 76F on a 100F day, or a 69F wall in a 70F house when it +20F outside, especially after they go home and compare what those walls feel like in their wretched sub-code dwelling (like mine. :-) )

  19. Ted Kidd | | #19

    Fear of change.
    I'm with Allison.

    Assuming this mythical ignorant home buyer wanting 2 systems does appear, it is pretty easily educated away from that stinking thinking to understanding one system that keeps the WHOLE HOUSE comfortable all the time is a MUCH better deal.

    How much further than sharing cost of the annual service agreement PER SYSTEM, or discussion of having two crappy systems vs one great one, do you think you'd have to go? Cause I've got a list a mile long...

    The challenge is the builder "been doin it this away fer ever," doesn't see upside but does see cost and risk associated with this change. Probably not SMALL cost or risk either.

    Is he wrong? If you ask him to do a thing, shouldn't he expect to get paid? Where is his incentive?

  20. Terry Hill | | #20

    Energy Efficiency adding to the value of the house
    I have two points re this issue:
    1) I do not see the demand out there because, as has already been mentioned, the traditional home buyer does not appreciate the EE value. To remedy this I think that we have to get to the kids, K-12, and teach them about building science. Include it in the STEM programs. Also an animated movie from the likes of PIXAR might help:-)

    2) I am hopeful that once we find a way to capitalize EE through a changed appraisal process (HERS now included in some MLS's) and have the mortgage risk assessment take the EE measurers into account, buying attitudes will change. (SAVE Act)

  21. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #21

    Ignorance isn't mythical
    Ted: the uninformed buyers exist in droves particularly in the south. I don't build and try to sell spec homes,let alone 500 of them in a year so I will defer to those that do to tell me how their buyers behave.

    Terry: we have had HERS index and green certifications in the MLS here for at least 5 years with minimal impact. With energy cheap, expectations of comfort low, and most people wanting more rather than better it will take some time for high performance homes to gain broad acceptance.

  22. User avater
    Bronwyn Barry | | #22

    A Good Read
    Carl,

    I agree with you. We're collectively doing a lousy job at promoting the benefits of smaller, urban, energy efficient homes that leave a smaller footprint. It doesn't help that the education arm of our industry is essentially broken - or totally non-existant - and when education does happen, we're generally teaching the same old mediocre designs and assemblies that others before us have found aren't working. Genius. We're also great at bashing new (or foreign) ideas when we see others around us trying them. (No prizes for guessing what I'm referring to there!)

    I've recently stumbled upon a great book that I'd like to recommend: 'EcoMind' by Francis Moore Lappe. You may recall her as the author of 'Diet for a Small Planet.' She shares some great ideas on how to shift thinking towards constructive places where we can all connect.

    Another great resource is the writing of Donella Meadows, a pioneering environmental activist and systems thinker. (Anything of hers is great.)

    Lastly, for those of you who like a good, easy-read, try the work of Chip and Dan Heath: 'Shift', or do a search on 'Bright Spot Theory.' Your crusty cynicism will be erased forever! (And no, I won't be selling a cream for that.)

  23. David Buehler | | #23

    Even convincing one in a
    Even convincing one in a hundred new home buyers to build an energy efficient home would be a huge improvement over the status quo.

    The problem is that there are few options for the (possibly mythical) near-net zero home that costs about as much as a standard home.

    Say a buyer would like a comfortable, near zero energy bill house, the kind discussed on this site, but didn't want to pay significantly more than a standard home. Surely such buyers exist, and where should they go?

  24. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #24

    Response to David Buehler
    David,
    Q. "Say a buyer would like a comfortable, near zero energy bill house, the kind discussed on this site, but didn't want to pay significantly more than a standard home. Surely such buyers exist, and where should they go?"

    A. Some builders say that you can build a quality high-performance home with a big PV array on the roof for the same cost as a conventional house. Most such builders are wrong. It should come as no surprise to learn that quality construction and a PV array cost money -- and that such a house will cost significantly more than a leaky house without a PV array.

    A few builders are finding ways to bring down the cost of building a net-zero-energy house; I'm thinking of Carter Scott in Massachusetts. But you won't find a builder like Carter Scott in most areas of the country.

  25. Brooks Ballard | | #25

    The Naive Comment
    We all know that builders are slow to change. However, they all believe in a fair playing field. Are we wasting our time complaining about changing hearts and minds, when we should be lobbying harder for more realistic performance laws? If ALL builders must conform to more energy efficient standards, all of a sudden you'd see real innovation from the $48 psf crowd. In other words, let's not convince builders, lets convince the legislatures. I'm sure this has been discussed and I will peruse the comments for links.

  26. User avater
    Leigha Dickens | | #26

    Custom and Spec/Production, Again
    "Say a buyer would like a comfortable, near net-zero energy bill house...but didn't want to pay significantly more than a standard home. Surely such buyers exist, but where should they go?"

    Coming from the custom building world, I know that buyer *definitely* exists. They go to the custom-built home market, asking to build exactly what they want according to their particular green vision. And they want that too to cost no more or not much more than conventional construction, which for a *custom* home builder is pretty darn challenging.

    Things I've observed that customers aren't really all that willing to pay for, no matter how green they want their house to be, include green building certification fees or even any performance testing. The one thing I notice they often *want* to pay for is a "geothermal" heat pump, usually at the expense of the other building envelope efficiency practices that make more sense in our southeastern climate. That is ever the challenge in green building for single family homes. Make the hidden aspects of high performance homes sexy.

  27. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #27

    Carter Scott's comparative $/foot (response to Martin)
    If the barely code minimum cost is $48/foot as advertises, Scott's ~$200/foot for Net Zero on a fairly simple house is going to be daunting. While getting to Net Zero in the south won't be nearly as expensive as in Scott's typical, cold-edge-of-zone-5/warm-edge-of-6 clients, it would at be at least double that $48/foot number, even with the non-unionized immigrant labor pool most often tapped by tract home builders in that region.

    That's not to say it isn't worth it, only that it will continue to be a tough sell unless code minimums are raised to something closer to Net Zero levels, no matter how low the builders' margins are.

    Austin TX has long since taken the bull by the horn, and implemented a ratcheting increase in code minimums with a requirement that new homes built in 2015 be "Net-Zero Ready":

    http://www.proudgreenhome.com/article/140057/Austin-aims-for-net-zero-capable-homes-by-2015

    Austin has also gone beyond the typical rough-justice net metering approach to compensation for rooftop PV, with a more nuanced "Value of Solar Tariff" (VOST) calculation that takes into account the capital & maintenance cost savings of the lower grid infrastructure requirements that comes with widely distributed generation, and the capital & fuel cost savings that come with the peak-power generation being offset by PV, since a large fraction of the PV output is concurrent with peak daily loads.

    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/austin-energys-value-of-solar-tariff-could-it-work-anywhere-else

    This is a fairly complicated calculation to make, and doesn't always work well with the current old-school utility business models, so there is plenty of push-back, but these sort of innovations in ARE the future, and plays well with Austin's Net Zero Ready building code strategy, making Austin one of the most attractive places to invest in rooftop solar.

    If the rest of the US south were able to emulate Austin's model, the $48/foot tract home would evaporate right along with most of the utility bill in new homes, and the region could start decommissioning coal-fired baseload power generation, rather than merely avoiding the need for new peak power generation. Of course this is easier done in Austin with it's community-owned utility than in other locations where the utility structure, business model, and financing is less flexible. But now that privately owned small-scale PV power is below retail-parity cost in many US locations, we're currently at the very beginning of a tsunami that will absolutely break the brittle fossilized business model used by many investor owned utilities. By 2020 those business models will have to adapt everywhere in the sunny south, no matter how much the utilities spend on lobbying the local regulators to preserve the past. Utilities that get ahead of the wave can surf it to continued profitability, those that can't or won't will simply drown.

  28. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #28

    Tennessee Update
    I was at another client in Chattanooga yesterday and asked him the same question about the number of systems in a mutlistory house and his response matched the other builders I referenced in the article - homeowners would feel cheated with a single HVAC system instead of two. I realize that my survey was neither scientific nor fully objective, but it is interesting that these successful builders all seem to have the same response to their customer's wants and needs. There is certainly a lot of education necessary to change perceptions. Bigger isn't better but buyers don't know or believe it.

  29. LOREE FILIZER | | #29

    It's the Aesthetics
    As a complete layperson to building and starting my research into the zero energy house that I want to some day build, I think it's important for eco builders to understand the perception of green building from the average person on the street. I think there is a bit of a disconnect that goes beyond the number of HVAC systems and has to do with my own frustration with a lot of green single family homes: that energy efficiency/ecological considerations must come at the cost of what I consider a beautiful, classically cosy home. Instead of scoffing at people who want wood floors and granite, why not work toward beautiful architecture that is still green? Granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, got that, but so often green architecture for single family homes seems to translate into a particular aesthetic taste -- minimalist, concrete, slick and shiny, simple lines and color palettes. Sorry, I want to eat my cake and have it, too: I'd like a cute Better Homes and Gardens or House Beautiful home -- not too large -- but that is zero energy, too. I'm an avid reader of Fine Homebuilding but can't stand the look of many of the boxes being built in it. I think when you want to convince people of the value of green homebuilding, it needs to be demonstrated that it can still be done while taking into consideration personal taste and style.

  30. Marcus De La Fleur | | #30

    Three step program?
    Should I care about what the builders think? May be not, because the consumer will ultimately drive the market. To get the consumer's mindset adjusted, I can think of three steps that would help:

    1) Keep building efficient and green model projects that consumers can visit. The experience of a green/efficient home makes a huge difference and puts things into perspective (compared to just hearing and reading about it). Suddenly the large square footage, stainless steel appliance or overpriced counter top doesn't feel that important any more.

    2) We need the miles-per-gallon (mpg) equivalent for homes! Ten years ago, nobody talked about or was interested in mpg's. Look at the car advertising now. It has become a major bragging point. We should do the same thing with houses - a platform where you can compare apples to apples.

    3) Let's keep talking about the slums of the future - our poorly planned and build subdivisions in the suburbs and exurbs - those big McMansions that will become too costly to live in, run, and maintain... What is bought today and in theory should appreciate over time, may actually become a financial liability - let's talk about that too. The more this gets discussed, the greater the likelihood that it will stick.

    4)... I am sure that are other things to add...

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