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June 29, 2011
Business of Building
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Technology Buzz
Popularity of Green Home Technology Increases With Familiarity, Lower Costs

Even though prospective home buyers balk at incorporating green home technology in their new homes because of the perceived costs involved, their apprehension is beginning to wane as the technology becomes more affordable and its benefits become more apparent, according to panelists participating in the recent NAHB webinar, “Green Home Technology: How to Cut Costs for Your Customers.”

Green home technology “helps the home function more efficiently while simplifying the home owner’s lifestyle and saving them money,” green builder Matt Belcher, CGP, of Belcher Custom Home Building in St. Louis, told the audience of the June 15 webinar, which was sponsored by NAHB and the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA).

“In general, the perception that green home technology is expensive has been valid up until recently,” added Dave Pedigo, CEDIA's senior director of technology, while noting that home buyers with the most disposable income generally were the technology’s earliest consumers.

But costs began to decrease as use of the technology became more widespread, he said.

Coupled with lower costs, Pedigo said home owners are becoming more familiar with the technology, especially as it is being integrated with mobile devises such as the iPad, iPhone and android products, which enable home owners to manage their homes — such as monitoring energy use — remotely. This, too, is adding to the technology’s acceptance among home buyers.

Belcher said that many of his buyers know exactly what home technology components they want in their homes and why — which makes the sale easier. But for those who are hesitant, he focuses on relating the technology’s benefits and demonstrating how easy it us to use.

“The bottom line is still their bottom line,” said Belcher, adding that, if the benefits fit their lifestyle, they will be more willing to buy and incorporate the technology.

“People, even though they are strapped for cash, will still go out and buy the newest mobile device,” he said. “They can control the power for their homes from their phones, so it’s more interesting to them.”

“The price point has gone down, and competition is a wonderful thing for consumers when it comes to this market. Cash incentives and federal tax incentives are helpful as well,” Belcher added.

A Growing Demand for Higher Tech

Belcher stressed that home technology is not higher priced — “just higher tech.”

“As remodels and rehabs become such a large part of the market, more people are putting these systems in their homes to help them reduce their operating costs — and it is going to be a major profit center for builders and remodelers who are working with electronic systems contractors (ESCs) to meet the demand,” Belcher said.

He explained that although home buyers may not want to incorporate all of the home technology components at once, offering them the choice to add more technology components later can help get consumers off the fence.

How to Appeal to Potential Buyers

One engaging approach to selling home technology “is to let the consumer know that pre-wiring for the technology is still an option, so when they are ready to incorporate those green home features, they can do so on their own time,” Belcher said.

Another tactic is to get prospective buyers actively involved in the benefits.

“In my experience with customers who have decided to incorporate these kinds of technologies, they are excited about the control it gives them,” said Belcher. “They love to talk about the baseline of their home and energy use, information that we can share with them,” he said. “It gives them a ballpark to work within that they also constantly try to improve and outperform on a monthly basis.”

Keeping up to date with technology trends and working with an experienced ESC from the very beginning will add credibility and quality to a builder’s building process and product line.

Burgeoning Trends

One of the most popular home technology systems that builders currently are installing is lighting control, Pedigo said. Many consumers are more aware of this measurable part of their budgets. They can forsee the benefits and are willing to make the investment, he added.

“I expect this trend to continue as more home owners attempt to reduce their household costs,” he said.

Another technology frequently requested is “daylight harvesting” — using an astronomical clock or similar programming to operate motorized window shades. Properly used window shades can save home owners a significant portion of their energy consumption.

“In the summertime, shades passively cool the home, and in the winter they are programmed to allow optimum daylight to enter and warm the home,” Pedigo said.

“Energy dashboards and energy management are also a burgeoning trend,” he said. “This allows the home owner to actively monitor the amount of energy used by way of a dashboard that visually indicates the energy levels in the home.”

“Programming options allow home owners to monitor their home’s energy output and adjust their consumption,” he said.

Solar energy is another popular system in specific regions that is increasing in demand, he said.

Collaborate With an ESC

Belcher and Pedigo discussed the importance of collaboration between an ESC and a builder when creating home technology systems and working with prospective buyers.

“The ESC is an integral part of the team,” Belcher said. “With an ESC involved early in the process, we are able to solve a lot of problems at the discussion and planning stage. He helps the customer as they add things to their house.”

“It is key to have an ESC brought into the project as early as possible,” reiterated Pedigo. “If you are going to sell a sustainable lifestyle, it makes a tremendous difference in the quality assurance when you bring in the ESC at the beginning of the project and not as an afterthought,” he said.

“As an example, if you put solar panels on — slightly altering the direction of the home can make a significant performance difference, and the ESC would know to look for those details,” he said.

In addition to keeping up with technology trends, Belcher said working with an ESC, knowing how to educate buyers and following the National Green Building Standard will help builders enhance their business and green building practices.  

“The standard levels the playing field for green builders,” he said. “I can better focus on choosing the right systems and components that we can include in our homes and it makes me more efficient on the business side of things.”

He said the standard can help builders apply better building practices and increase their credibility. “Those are just a few of the biggest benefits for me,” Belcher said.

Replays and New Webinars

For a replay of the webinar, visit the Webinar Rewind page (www.nahb.org/webinardownload) on the NAHB website.

For more information on the design and technology series of NAHB Webinar Wednesdays, visit www.nahb.org/webinars.

For more information, email Erin Grant at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8461.

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