Although an increasing number of homeowners are adding energy-efficient products and systems to their new home or remodel wish list, questions linger about whether stringent energy codes and voluntary programs are driving this trend. Brittany Gibson, an analyst with Pike Research, spoke with Custom Home about her recent report that looked at the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) as a baseline determiner for the types of sustainable residential products or techniques that a local market might pick up. Pike forecasts the total market value of energy-efficient homes, which it identifies as homes that exceed the 2009 IECC by at least 15 percent on a kilowatt hour per square foot basis, to reach $37.8 billion by 2020.

How did looking at the codes impact the conclusions you were able to draw regarding the drivers of the energy-efficient residential market growth?

What’s funny is that it’s not the most significant driver. If I had to distill it down to two really important drivers, it would be consumer preference and cost. And that’s really hard to compare even in the U.S. because we have such different climate issues between Seattle versus Houston, for example. And there are so many different conceptions of thermal comfort in the home, as well as the variations in the idea of the American dream home. It extends to the size of the home, square footage, big windows versus smaller windows, and other regional building styles. You can’t generalize it.

You also looked at this on a global scale. How does the impact of codes in North America compare worldwide?

At the macro level, North America is going to have more energy efficiency penetration in new construction. That is the same with Asia Pacific because there is so much new construction going on. In Asia that is driven by sizable economic growth. In North America, particularly in the southwest, the water-supply concerns along with new construction are creating an opportunity to use energy efficiency as a marketing feature. That differs with the East Coast where there are more space constraints and existing building stock. Europe, too, is dealing with a lot of older building stock.

How does the impact of voluntary sustainable building programs compare with that of the codes?

Green building certifications are complementary, but they focus on things like water conservation, proximity to public transportation, and urban development, for example. They definitely play a role because energy is a huge component of those programs. However, those who are likely to voluntarily get a green building certification are likely those who are going to be buying the innovative technologies. They’re going to be looking at how to get the most bang for their buck in a retrofit or in new construction.

Is there one technology that will emerge as more homeowners look to build energy efficient?

To compare residential properties and energy efficiency in them globally or even across America is not comparing apples to apples. There are so many factors including utility rebate programs, consumer awareness of technologies, and how those savings translate into savings on utilities. That all varies so greatly, even at the inter-region level, so there is no one technology or approach to retrofits that is going to be a game-changer. Still, consumers are more aware of energy efficiency in their home because it represents an operating cost. And with tight economies globally, people are trying to see where they can save and what the trade-off is with the cost of investment.