Everyone says they want to be green, but that’s not where their money goes

A Wall Street Journal Energy Roundup blog post points out a new study showing that consumers are starting to become skeptical about the concept of going green.

“Even with all the talk today about consumers seeking to save energy costs and help the environment, the shaky housing market and other recent economic uncertainties prove that wallets are still driving many Americans’ green purchase decisions,” Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton said in a press release. “As it stands, ‘energy-efficient’ is consistently equated to ‘more expensive’ in the minds of consumers for products across the board,” Shelton said.

Consumers want proof that an energy-efficient home will save them money in the long run in order to justify the generally higher cost of such a home, Shelton claims. Otherwise, according to the survey, consumers would prefer to spend their money on aesthetics. When asked what they would buy if given an extra $10,000 to build a new home, 26% of survey respondents chose granite countertops, compared with 24% who favored an energy-efficient HVAC system. Twenty-one percent chose “additional tile or hardwood,” the same percentage who favored “upgraded or additional energy-efficient kitchen appliances.”

When asked how they would spend an extra $10,000 to improve an existing home, most respondents preferred to upgrade their flooring, kitchens, bathrooms and paint. Replacing windows, which might improve a house’s energy efficiency, was only the fourth-most-popular choice.

Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me, even though it does disappoint me.

I can only guess that it is a rational economic decision based on that fact that the average American only lives in particular house for 5 years or less. You can buy granite countertops that would impress your friends and neighbors and make your kitchen look nice and help sell your home when you move, or you can put in new windows that might pay you back in 6 1/2 years in increased efficiency – 1 1/2 years longer than you’ll probably be in the house. And since no one appreciates energy efficient windows, it wouldn’t help you resell the house later either. (Don’t believe me on that one? Ask your real estate agent.)

It’s a bit frustrating to me, because you can’t even get most people to take the easiest step of all in energy efficiency: changing out a few light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent. The payback period for that is in mere months.

Anyone out there who has made an energy efficiency upgrade to their home lately besides me? Tell us what you did, and why!

2 thoughts on “Everyone says they want to be green, but that’s not where their money goes”

  1. Earlier this year, I put a high-efficiency furnace in my home after one year of ownership. My house is only 940 sq feet and 60+ years old – I might not get payback on my 96% efficient, $4000 heating/air purifying system. But, being in Wisconsin and no near-future plans to move, I think it was worth it – even if my bank account doesn’t get all it’s money back. I hope to make more home improvements to maximize my furnace’s efficiency, but even if I decide to move in the next couple years, I will feel better knowing that the new owner not only got a new furnace, but an efficient one as well.

  2. I have put a lot of efficiency upgrades into my house too, including new windows, a radiant barrier attic upgrade, efficient toilets and showerheads, etc.

    I don’t plan to move anytime soon either, but I have never ended up staying in a house for longer than 5 years, so I can’t help but wondering how long I’ll really be here. And although I also don’t mind passing along those benefits, I would prefer to get my money back on them, of course.

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