• AlterStudio Architect took this 1950s duplex in Austin, Texas, and deconstructed, modernized, and enlarged it into an energy- and water-conserving showpiece. Many homeowners say they are prioritizing energy-efficient upgrades, but are they really doing so?

    Credit: Paul Bardagjy

    AlterStudio Architect took this 1950s duplex in Austin, Texas, and deconstructed, modernized, and enlarged it into an energy- and water-conserving showpiece. Many homeowners say they are prioritizing energy-efficient upgrades, but are they really doing so?


American homeowners may say that they prioritize energy-efficient home improvements, but their actions show otherwise, according to a new Shelton Group survey. The company's annual Energy Pulse study finds that while homeowners say energy efficiency has a huge effect on their investments, they consistently prioritize more aesthetically focused improvements, such as a kitchen or bathroom remodel.

Is it true, as a Time magazine senior editor recently asserted, that we just don't care about climate change? Or is it that we're just not aware of the gulf that seems to exist between our intentions and our actions?

It seems we think we're doing well in terms of prioritizing energy efficiency. After all, the Energy Pulse study found that 81 percent of respondents said energy efficiency would have somewhat to very much of an impact on their selection between two homes. This seems in line with other industry studies, such at the NAHB's "What Buyers Want" study released earlier this year, which found that homeowners are more likely to pay 2-3 percent more for a home with energy-efficient features, and research from the University of California, Berkeley, that found homes sold with Energy Star, LEED, or GreenPoint rated labels commanded an average price premium of 9 percent. Sounds great, right?

Yet, the Energy Pulse survey reports that when hypothetically given money for a home improvement project, homeowners consistently prioritized a kitchen or bathroom remodel. On the upside, replacing windows came in second, and HVAC or furnace replacements came in third in terms of priority. But still: 55 percent of respondents were likely (with 19 percent of those saying "very likely") to make non-energy efficiency improvements to their homes in the near future. In contrast, the overall average likelihood for energy efficiency improvements in the same time period dropped to 12 percent.

Does income play a role in this? Perhaps. Energy Pulse reports that higher income homeowners (defined as those earning more than $100,000) were 13 percent less likely to prioritize energy efficiency than those earning less than $25,000. That seems like a no-brainer: paying your electricity and gas bills hits your wallet a lot harder when it's not as full.

Tapping into another can of worms, there seems to still be a misconception on the issue of cost in general: 44 percent of survey respondents said energy efficiency improvements are "too expensive." This raises a slew of other questions, such as whether respondents are calculating payback periods and if they are, how they are doing so; and whether the challenge of properly valuing green home improvements is impairing investment. For more on these financial challenges, click here to read an essay from Robert Sahadi of the Institute for Market Transformation on how the home building industry must change its financial mechanisms, including those used for valuation, for green building in the years ahead.

For more insight into where consumers stand--and, perhaps more intriguing, where they think they stand--on energy efficiency and home building today, click here to learn more about the Energy Pulse survey.

What do you think? Are today's homeowners walking the walk on energy efficiency or are you hearing and seeing otherwise in your daily practice?