Following the report into Australia’s building energy performance woes last week, building products supplier CSR got in contact to share some thoughts on consumer sentiment around energy efficiency.
One of the key statements made by industry stakeholders was that consumers just aren’t interested in energy performance.
But according to exit surveys conducted by Lonergan Research for CSR at a range of display homes, consumers not only care about energy efficiency, it is at the top of “comfort” features consumers are willing to pay for, followed by more natural light, improved acoustics and better indoor environment quality.
All surveyed, in fact, said they were willing to pay more for energy efficiency, according to CSR project manager – innovation Scott Clarkson.
Comfort, not sustainability
Much like LJ Hooker has done with its Liveability program, CSR is careful to refer to sustainability in a less-loaded way, however – comfort.
The anecdotal evidence is, Clarkson says, if you package up energy efficiency and sustainability in a different way – around general comfort – more people are willing to listen.
Call it a symptom of an unfortunate political landscape, where buying into sustainability is seen as aligning yourself with the Greens, Clarkson says.
But the focus on comfort also comes from learnings out of CSR House, a project where CSR created an attractive 8-star NatHERS house for as little as possible, a facility that is used for ongoing research.
When completed, the house had a “feel” to it that CSR wanted to document and then be able to deliver in conjunction with builders and consumers – less drafts, better acoustic performance, increased air quality and lower operating costs. Basically, a more comfortable house.
The sales roadblock
So if consumers actually do want energy efficiency, why isn’t message getting through? Clarkson says in the display home context one of the potential roadblocks is the sales agent.
“A lot of the salespeople don’t know enough [about energy efficiency],” Clarkson tells The Fifth Estate.
And when they don’t know a lot about a product, they end up actively discouraging it.
These staff are usually on low base rates, and driven by commission, and a conversation about something not well understood is seen as an obstacle to closing a sale. According to Clarkson, this happens over a range of discussions too, not just with energy efficiency.
Working with consumers and builders
Clarkson says consumers don’t necessarily know the right questions to ask of builders or salespeople regarding efficiency upgrades, nor the typical costs involved, and can be quickly discouraged by sometimes erroneous information.
To help push increased energy performance in homes, CSR is in the early stages of a new service called Comfort Tune, where for a fee CSR works with consumers and builders to analyse the builder’s plans and recommend low-cost enhancements to insulation, glazing and ventilation that will push the home above BCA minimums, with detailed information on savings and comfort increases provided.
“The program aims to generate some consumer awareness and demand plus we provide full support and training to the builder to ensure they can deliver what’s been promised to the consumer,” Clarkson says.
Immigrants think Aussie homes are subpar
Another survey conducted by CSR has found that North American, European and Canadian immigrants have a dismal view of Australian building performance.
Surveying the sentiments of 120 Americans and Europeans living in Australia, the company found 75 per cent thought Australian homes were colder in winter, 70 per cent thought overseas homes were better in terms of acoustics, air flow and temperature, and 74 per cent thought Australian homes were less well-insulated.
The only point where Australian homes excelled was on aesthetics.
“Our research suggests while Australian homes are hitting the mark when it comes to visual design, homes in North America and Europe are better performing in elements of comfort and energy efficiency,” CSR building scientist Jesse Clarke said.
“The results raise concerns over a general lack of understanding of building performance issues in Australia, and how they can be resolved. In fact, three quarters of the expats we surveyed indicated their Australian-born friends did not have a good understanding of building performance issues.”