Energy Efficiency vs. Environmentally Friendly: Consumer Perception

As we discussed in our last posting, NAHB recently conducted a study how housing preferences differ among the main racial/ethnic groups in the US.  One of the aspects examined in the study was energy efficiency.  While each of the four groups (White, African-American, Hispanic, Asian) identified it as a top priority, the study revealed some interesting results in terms of how people think about energy efficiency. 

To make this a little clearer, let’s take a look at some of the questions included in the study.  When asked to identify their level of concern about the impact of their home on the environment participants could choose from the following answers: not concerned, concerned but would not pay more, or would pay more for an environmentally-friendly home.  Over 65% of all groups indicated they would like an environmentally-friendly home but were not willing to pay more for it.  Less than 15% of participants in each group indicated they were willing to pay more. 

While the previous question seems to indicate environmental impact is not a top priority, when the question was phrased more specifically regarding energy efficiency and cost savings, the results are drastically different.  Participants were asked to choose between two options relating to energy efficiency: 1) a highly energy efficient home with lower utility bills over the life of the home, and 2) a home without energy efficiency that costs 2-3% less.  Over 80% of participants indicated they would choose the highly efficient home.  The results from this question clearly show that home buyers are definitely concerned and are willing to pay more for an energy efficient home.  Energy and cost savings are quantitative benefits that hit closer to home for the majority of consumers than environmental friendliness which is viewed as more of a qualitative benefit and a social issue. 

To further support this finding, participants were asked how important low utility costs will be when choosing their next home.  Again, at least 80% of participants from each demographic group indicated that utility cost savings would be either important or very important.  Building on that question, when asked home much more they would be willing to pay in order to save $1,000/year in utility costs, the results show consumers expect a fairly steep rate of return on their investment (between 10.9% and 14.8%).  The average amount participants were willing to pay varied among the four groups as shown in the chart below.

From this portion of NAHB’s study we can see that the way we frame a topic or question can significantly change the way it is perceived and has a direct result on the outcome.  Environmental friendliness, energy efficiency, sustainability, green living, etc. all have some common ground in the building and housing industry.  However, each of these phrases can (and evidently do) have a different meaning for home buyers.  This can be incredibly important for professionals in the building and housing industry.  While you may mean one thing, the terminology you use and the way a topic is framed has a significant effect on how it is perceived by the consumer.   


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What role does race/ethnicity play in housing preferences in the US?

One of the great things about our country is the influence of foreign cultures blending together to create a giant melting pot society.  People from all over the world come to the US to work and live, creating a diverse population of ethnicities and a mixing of various cultures, ideals, and beliefs.  This diversity results in a wide range of consumer preferences as different cultures value the various aspects of life in different ways.  One area of particular interest is the housing industry.  A recent study by NAHB, What Home Buyers Really Want: Ethnic Preferences, shows that there are both similarities and differences in what home buyers from different racial and ethnic backgrounds really want in their homes.   This study is very similar to Newport’s own, Revisioning the American Dream project, just on a much larger scale.  Be sure to check out our project to compare some results!

The study included an extensive list of more than 120 home and community features rated by home buyers in terms of relative importance.  The ethnic/racial demographics examined in the study were: White, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian.  Listed below are some of the more interesting results from the study.

  • Cracking the top 10 most wanted lists in all four groups were: a laundry room, EnergyStar appliances, EnergyStar rating for the whole home, and exterior lighting.


  • Features that are relatively more important to minority buyers than White buyers include: living room, dining room, and patio (highlighted in green above).  Conversely, White buyers placed more importance on garage storage and above code insulation (highlighted in blue).
  • 7 of the top 10 most unwanted features were common across all four groups including: an elevator, golf course community, high density community, gated community, only a shower and no bathtub, a wine cooler and a wet bar.

Specific to kitchen, bathroom, and technology preferences, the study revealed:

  •  The top three most wanted kitchen features were exactly the same (in slightly different order) across all groups and included: table space for eating, a walk-in pantry and a double sink.
  • Four of the top five most wanted bathroom features were also common across all groups.  These include: an exhaust fan, linen closet, both a tub and shower and a double vanity.
  • A wireless security system was rated highest among all groups from a list of more than 20 different technologies.  Other technologies of relative importance for all groups included: programmable thermostats, security cameras and wireless audio systems.

The study also revealed some interesting findings pertaining to energy efficiency preferences.  We will discuss these findings in our next posting as there is quite a bit of information that can be extracted from this part of the study.  Thanks for taking the time to check out our blog and make sure you check back soon!  For more information on NAHB’s research on consumer housing preferences click here.

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EnergyStar V3 Requirements: Thermal Enclosure Checklist

One of the new standards included in EnergyStar Version 3 for homes requires a HERS Rater to complete certain inspection checklists ensuring the home qualifies for the EnergyStar label.  The first of these checklists is the Thermal Enclosure Systems Checklist, generally completed during the raters first visit to the home.  The other forms include an HVAC Quality Installation Contractor Checklist, HVAC Quality Installation Rater Checklist and the Water Management System Builder Checklist. These documents are completed by the rater, builder, and HVAC contractor and typically are filled out upon completion of the ENERGY STAR certified new home.

Typically, a rater will make two site visits to complete all of the required documents and testing such as blower door (air leakage of the buildings envelope) and duct blaster (air leakage of duct work).  Along with the site visits, the HERS Rater is also responsible for modeling the home using REMRATE software and gathering documentation from HVAC contractors the builder.

The Thermal Enclosure Checklist is generally the first of the four documents that is completed for a home to qualify for the EnergyStar V3 label. Items included in this checklist includes the following sections:

1.  High-Performance Fenestration

  • Window fenestration verification (windows stickers)
  •  Climate Zone Specific U- Factor and SHGC

2.  Quality-Installed Insulation

  • Insulation R-value levels (floor, walls, ceilings)
  • Climate Zone Specific insulation levels per code or ES requirements
  • Quality of insulation installation (Grade 1,2,3)
  • Grade 1 is ideal

  3.  Fully-Aligned Air Barriers

  • Air barriers (caulking, foam, solid material)
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Ducts 

4. Thermal Bridging

  • Reduced thermal bridging (between conditioned and unconditioned space)
  • Window/door framing
  • Corners to the exterior

5.  Air Sealing

  • Openings (attics or other unconditioned spaces)
  • Gaskets
  • Insulation levels


While on site, the Rater makes visual evaluations to ensure each component meets program requirements. If a component is found to not meet the requirements builders can either make the fix immediately or the rater can check a “must correct” option. This may lead to a potential revisit of the site by the Rater or this could become an item the builder sign off on. 

The rater is responsible for all items on the checklist with a few exceptions.  At the discretion of the rater, a builder can verify up to eight items on the checklist. This allows for some flexibility as sometimes certain items on the checklist may not be completed when the rater is on site.

For more information on the EnergyStar program visit their website.

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Tomorrow’s Buildings Will Be Smarter Than Ever

Technology today is all about being “smart”.  We are attached to our smart phones, we watch smart TV’s, drive smart cars, and live in smart homes.  The purpose behind smart technologies is to help us use available resources in a better way.  You can ask your cell phone for restaurant recommendations, tell your TV what show you want to watch, ask your car for directions to a friend’s house, and tell lock your doors and turn of lights even when you’re not home.  Smart technologies take input from one source (the user) and apply some brainpower to take some sort of action.  

After several years of slower than anticipated growth, smart building technologies are expected to grow rapidly in the next three years.  According to research performed by IDC Energy Insights, the smart building technology market is expected to grow from $6.3 billion in 2013 to $21.9 billion in 2017, a 28.4% compound annual growth rate.  Building owners and decision makers are becoming increasingly aware of the value these technologies provide and the demand for them among consumers.  Coupled with the recovering economy and an increased emphasis on energy efficiency and managing operational costs, these technologies are primed and ready for significant market growth. 

The research shows that buildings in government and healthcare sectors are more advanced in the integration and implementation of smart building technologies, but are expected to make a big splash into other areas of the building industry.  In the past, HVAC systems have been a heavy focus for these technologies but investments are being made into other areas such as lighting, plug load, and equipment maintenance.  According to IDC vice-president Jill Feblowitz, “Smart building solutions are valuable technologies for deploying energy management strategies that generate operational efficiencies, cost containment, and sustainability benefits that appeal to key stakeholders across chain of command in building management.”

For more information view this report.

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Marketing High-Performance Homes

It goes without saying that environmental and energy issues have become major points of interest for Americans.  The home building industry is one of the major areas where these issues have a major role.  As building science continues to develop, today’s homes are being built to significantly higher standards and performance levels than ever before.  While these homes feature a number of sustainable features, simply building them is only half the battle.  Successfully marketing and selling these homes is just as, if not more important.  Without someone living in the home, it would be hard to consider it “green” or “energy efficient.”  (It would actually be just the opposite…wasteful.) 

I recently came across an article on featuring an interview with Suzanne Shelton, president of Shelton Group, a marketing communications agency entirely focused on energy efficiency and sustainability.  The interview discusses some of the common mistakes (and how to avoid them) made by builders when marketing the sustainable features of their homes.  Listed below are some of the highlights from the article:

  • The term “energy efficient home” has outperformed the term “green home” on such a consistent basis they have stopped testing it.  Emphasize the benefits such as improved comfort, health, safety, and lower utility bills rather than say the home is “green.”
  • Market the resale value of the home.  Researchers at UC Berkeley found that energy efficient homes sold at an average price premium of 9%. 
  • Understand building science to help turn a profit by offsetting more expensive features (insulation) with reductions in other areas (reduced cooling load).  Many high-performance building components may have high initial costs, but can likely reduce costs in other areas which will help to avoid having to list homes at a huge price premium.


  •  Don’t use the term “high-performance” with consumers.  It’s a building science term and they don’t understand it.  In fact, a recent study showed 84% of Americans said they could not correctly explain the term “high-performance home” to a friend.

Click here to view the full article.

For more information on Shelton Group, visit their website at

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Why Panned Joist Returns Lead to Leaky Ducts

Duct leakage testing is a critical aspect when evaluating a home’s performance level.  Building codes and advanced energy codes set limits on duct leakage to ensure a home is built to a certain standard.  The tightness of a duct system in a home can significantly impact the efficiency and performance level of the home.  Leaky ducts cause conditioned air to be lost through cracks and holes, resulting in higher utility bills and make it difficult to keep the home comfortable for occupants. 

While even the highest quality duct installation will still result in some leakage, systems using panned joist returns generally have high duct leakage and often will not pass the standards set by codes.  A panned joist return is simply an ordinary floor joist that is covered on the bottom with a piece of metal (the pan).  For builders, this is a low cost and convenient way of installing a return duct to carry the air in the home to the furnace because they use existing building cavities. 

Using building cavities and panned floor joists make poor return ducts for a number of reasons:

  • Carpenters who build them don’t know they should be sealed.
  • The materials, such as framing lumber and gypsum board, are difficult (or impossible) to seal.
  • The cavities often run to unconditioned areas. For example, floor cavities end at the rim joist. Wall cavities start at the floor near the basement or crawlspace and run to the ceiling near the attic.
  • Holes around wires and pipes often provide an easy path for air to flow. Plumbers and electricians may drill a hole into a duct cavity without knowing it.

Outside of the obvious high duct leakage resulting from panned floor joists, these systems can also cause significant indoor air quality issues and cause rotting in the wood of the floor joists.  Because these return ducts are under negative pressure, they will pull air from outside the home and often from unconditioned areas.  This results in unconditioned air being distributed through the home, contaminating the air the occupants are breathing.  The metal pan can also become a condensing plane for warmer house air when they are located in a cold basement or ventilated crawlspace.  When the warmer air from the home comes in contact with the cold metal pan, condensation occurs and spreads into the wood framing, causing it to rot. 

The following websites provide some further explanation and provide some examples of how panned floor joists can have a negative impact on the duct system in the home.

Building Science

Perhaps the Word HVAC Duct Idea Ever- The Panned Joist Return

Panned Joists in Older Homes Can Lead to Troubles

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Newport Ventures Partnering with Village of Scotia on Rehabilitation Project

Newport Ventures is working with the Village of Scotia, located in Schenectady County, New York to provide energy audits and detailed reports on 12 residential homes.  The homes chosen for the program were selected by the Village, with funding provided by the New York State Office for Community Renewal (NYOCR) for the CDBG Housing Rehabilitation Program.

Attic Insulation

After the energy audits and corresponding energy improvements are complete, the owner occupied properties will see a reduction in energy consumption needs. The rehabilitation program in the Village of Scotia expects to save the homeowners money on their gas and electric bills.

Newport Ventures is providing energy audits and reports for all 12 homes selected by the Village for participation in the CDBG program.

The Energy audits include:

  • A site inspection and an assessment of the energy related needs of the property,

    Air sealing techniques from yesteryear

  • A written report including a summary of findings, specific recommendations, calculation of savings to investment ratio for recommendations (1.0 or >)
  • A floor plan sketch
  • Inspection reports made available for current and future owners of the audited properties

As of February 2014, 3 of 12 homes have been audited for energy performance and consumption.  By the end of 2014 all 12 homes should be audited and improved upon.

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Hot Trends and Innovative Products from the 2014 International Builders Show

The theme of the 2014 International Builders Show in Las Vegas was “expect more.”  As consumers, we are always looking for the next cutting edge technology, but these innovations only survive if they succeed in improving our lives on a daily basis.  This year’s show featured a wide variety of products and technologies that will certainly do just that.  Don’t have time to pre-heat your oven? No problem.  Power goes out while you’re on vacation?  You’re covered. 

Consumer Report’s recently revealed its top trends from the 2014 IBS.  We have summarized a couple of them for you below and included some product information.  In our next posting we will summarize some of the 2014 bath and kitchen trends from annual National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) design survey.  

Consumer Report’s Trends

Speedy Appliances- Many appliances were on display that could significantly reduce the time spent in the kitchen, important for the hustle and bustle of today’s world and keeping you out of the McDonald’s Drive-Thru. 

·         Viking’s quick Cooking Ovens

·         Bosch Benchmark Steam Convection

·         Electrolux Dishwashers

Greater connectivity- Smart phones have become an essential part of the lives of many Americans.  Whether it’s checking e-mail, paying bills, making appointments, etc., we use our phones for just about everything.  Many products featured at IBS were equipped with WiFi enabled remote controls, allowing us to have better control of our home through our phones.  

·         Programmable Thermostats

·         Generac Guardian System Generators

·         AT&T Digital Life Home Automation

Smart Fixtures- Everything is getting smarter these days…even our kitchen sink.  While “smart appliances” have been marketed for some time now, “smart fixtures” made a splash at this year’s show.  Some products on display included a faucet that used LEDs to indicate water temperature and another which can provide cold, hot, or near boiling water in a single tap.

·         Delta Temp20 Faucet

·         InSinkErator 3N1 Hot Water Faucet

High Tech Homes- A number of innovative and exciting high-tech products were on display at this year’s show.  As consumers we are always looking for the next product that will “WOW” us.  One company is planning the release of a countertop embedded with a wireless phone charger for late in 2014.  While this technology has been seen before, it hasn’t been this applicable to the residential market ever before.   Another product with a significant “WOW” factor was a window system that opened up into a small balcony, perfect for small attic space and loft apartments.

·         Dupont Corian Countertop

·         Velux’s GDL Cabrio Balcony System

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Universal Design Trends Compliment Growth in 55+ Housing Market

The 55+ housing market is continuing to grow.  Third quarter data from 2013, according to the NAHB 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI), highlights current and prospective sales having reached a 5-year high and as a result, builder confidence in the market is increasing.  This also marks the 8th consecutive quarter that the market has experienced growth.  The 55+ housing market compromises single-family homes, condominiums, and multi-family rentals. 

The 55+ HMI assesses builder confidence in the senior housing market based on current sales, prospective buyers, and anticipated sales.  The index reveals whether the condition of the market is good, fair, or poor based on a number scale.  An index reading above 50 indicates a good market while below indicates the market condition is poor.  Some of the highlights from the third-quarter data include:

  • Overall present sales rose 16 points to 52
  • Expected sales rose 11 points to 53
  • Prospective buyers rose 10 points to 43
  • Single-family index rose 14 points to 50 (highest since the inception of HMI in 2008)
  • Multi-family condo rose 14 points to 37
  • Multi-family rental rose 17 points to 48

While the numbers show continued growth in the market, they certainly don’t jump off the page.  There is still a significant amount of work to be done to get the 55+ housing market to reach full production.  Recently, Newport Partners visited the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, NV.  The show was co-located with the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and highlighted top-of-the-line products, systems, and future trends.  A common theme throughout both of the shows was universal design.  Many exhibits heavily promoted the advantages of universal design such as walk-in showers, step-free entrances, and handicap accessible features in the home.  If the leading manufacturers of building and housing products and systems are buying into this trend, it certainly leads one to believe the growth in the 55+ housing market will continue.

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How Important is Universal Design?

The concept of universal design is to make products and the built environment accessible and useable to everyone, regardless of age, ability, or status in life.  These products and systems are intended to be barrier-free, so that nothing would prevent anyone of being able to use them.  For example, you’re an older couple may install non-slip floors in their shower or maybe a walk-in shower.  A family with many young children may install light switches closer to the floor to allow access for all the family members.  As aging in place becomes more popular in today’s society, universal design features are becoming more important aspects in the original design of a home. 

The majority of participants placed a high level of importance on having a step-free entrance into the home.

As part of our latest survey in the Revisioning the American Dream project, we asked participants to identify several different home design attributes.  We  have previously discussed responses relating to energy efficiency, home design and layout, and smart home technologies.  For our final posting we will get into some of the responses relating to….you guessed it….universal design attributes!

Overall, the top rated universal design attributes identified by the participants were wide doorways and hallways, step-free entrances, and single-floor living.  Those attributes which seemed to be less important to participants included easy to use handles and switches, front loading washers and dryers, and non-slip floors, and easy-access storage. 

Universal design attributes are important for many reasons, but age of the occupants is a primary one.  When looking at the difference in responses by comparing the different age ranges, there was some increased emphasis on certain attributes.  We split the data into two primary age groups for analysis, under 40 and over 40.  While the many of the top attributes may have remained the same, the ratings indicate certain attributes were more important to the older participants than the younger ones.  The under 40 group had much more evenly dispersed responses, while the older group clearly preferred certain attributes over others.  For example, “reachable controls and switches” was the second highest rated attribute for the under 40 group and the 4th highest for the older group, even though the older group actually rated this attribute higher when comparing the two.  Let’s face it, when we are younger and have more ability, we don’t think about certain things and therefore don’t place much importance on them.

This is the last update from this portion of our Revisioning the American Dream project.  We are currently working on the next phase and will certainly update our website when the time is right.  If you have any questions concerning this project or any others that Newport is involved in, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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