Will home buyers pay for green features?

Oct. 1, 2009
National Association of Home Builders commissioned a survey that said homeowners are interested in green, as long as they don't have to pay much for it.

An interesting little controversy has sprung up over green building and, once again, it leaves me with nothing good to say about homebuilders. It seems that the National Association of Home Builders commissioned a survey that said homeowners are interested in green, as long as they don't have to pay much for it.

Here's what NAHB said in a press release.

“Although we are seeing significant interest in green building, cost effectiveness is clearly a key concern among home buyers,” said NAHB chairman Joe Robson. “Builders said that among buyers who are willing to pay more for green features, more than half — 57% — are unlikely to pay more than an additional 2%.”

This sounds an awful lot like what NAHB has said about high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment and residential sprinklers. But I digress. Here's more.

The August survey coincides with news that the NAHB National Green Building Program continues to grow. More than 400 homes, developments and remodeling projects have been certified by the NAHB Research Center, which administers the program and trains and accredits local project verifiers. Of those projects, 43 have been certified to the National Green Building Standard, which was approved earlier this year by the American National Standards Institute.

Four hundred homes? We're having a bad year and maybe 500,000 to 600,000 units will be built and they're bragging about 400? They also brag about having 4,000 members who are Certified Green Professionals, out of a membership of perhaps 130,000. Another reason why I don't take NAHB green efforts seriously. Only 11% of builders nationwide indicated that their customers ask about environmentally friendly features, according to the survey.

“Fortunately, our members are increasingly taking the initiative to educate the home-buying public about the benefits of green construction,” Robson said.

Overall, energy efficiency continues to be the primary factor driving the green building movement, squaring with results from previous NAHB surveys in which homebuilders were asked about buyer preferences.

“More and more, our members are able to convince their clients of the benefits of a home built with efficiency and sustainability in mind,” Robson said.

“Whenever Congress considers how to encourage more energy-efficient construction, it must keep affordability in mind — and look for ways to incentivize these changes not only in new homes, but even more importantly in the nation's much more substantial and inefficient existing housing stock,” Robson said.

The survey results set off the BS detector in a pretty savvy guy, Ron Jones, a New Mexico homebuilder who is the co-founder of Green Builder Media and the only person to sit on the Board of Directors of both NAHB and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Jones noted that the NAHB survey conflicted with every other survey he's seen about homeowner attitudes about green building, so he asked NAHB for the survey data. Except that it's secret. He was told the survey was “an internal document,” and not released to either the press or members.

“I found the second category particularly disconcerting since I am not only a member of NAHB but a Life Director on their Board,” Jones wrote in a Green Builder Media e-newsletter. “I believe that I (and/or any other member making such a request) should have access to survey material and results that are gathered on behalf of the members.”

Not being allowed to see the survey data on which the press release was based makes Jones wonder if the results were intentionally skewed. How did they phrase the questions, for example? How was the sample selected?

Jones surmised, and I tend to agree with him, that the survey results were decided before the survey was mailed. NAHB is protecting the interests of production homebuilders who compete purely on price.

I ran across a really good blog on green building, www.consilienceblog.org. One of the posts (http://bit.ly/s0hvO) was by a builder, Grant Dorris, LEED-AP, who wrote, “This is the problem with the today's homebuilding industry — it is not about building homes, it is about moving money and homes are just the vehicle by which their money is moved.”

Yup. It sure is.

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