Today’s Wall Street Journal writes about how environmentally friendly options like upgraded insulation and more efficient air conditioners and furnaces are doing well in an otherwise soft housing market.
All over the International Builders Show that ran here in early February, suppliers of green materials were reporting stories of banner performance, even as the general mood among builders was subdued and cautious following a drop of 14.7% in single-family housing starts last year. Many industry economists predict a housing recovery is still a year away.
“Fifty-dollar- to $60-a-barrel oil is the biggest driver” behind green building, says Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects, which is based in Washington. “If oil went down to $28 a barrel, I’m not sure how much of this would stick.”
And that mind-set presents a challenge for green manufacturers. Solar energy, which is getting renewed attention recently, was all the talk in the 1970s after the Arab oil embargo but quickly faded away when gasoline prices went back down. The higher cost of green homes continues to be an impediment to their wide-scale adoption by the buying public, despite any savings consumers might see over time. Quadrant Homes in the Pacific Northwest, for example, reports that only about 4% of its buyers are willing to pay an extra $2,500 for an energy-savings option that includes things like better insulation and an upgraded furnace.
I can’t help but wonder if people aren’t fully informed about the benefits of energy savings upgrades when they choose options like granite countertops instead. Maybe energy savings just don’t give most people the feeling of “dream house” like that other stuff. Maybe they should try and sell it with an estimated payback time, so that people can see that they’ll come out ahead after X number of years.
I’m considering the “efficient attic” option for my house, but a friend of a coworker said he had been disappointed with the energy savings so far, so now I’m not so sure. I’m also thinking about tankless water heaters.
Anyone out there with a green feature on their house that they have added lately that has made a big difference in energy bills?