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Shifting Priorities in the American Housing Market

10.26.15 | Rob Conboy

Author: David N. Benjamin, PhD

Being in the business of enabling the construction of sustainable, energy efficient buildings in North America, the team at better and I are interested in the reviews that housing inhabitants provide about their housing. We take a particular interest in regards to the quality of the construction, the energy/water efficiency, and the usefulness and quality of the appliances and building installed equipment.

It is therefore interesting that a Wall Street Journal series, with articles by German born and sometime transplant to America, Sabine Muscat, actually mentions the issues of “…cheaply built American houses…” And the “…struggle with poorly designed American appliances.” Muscat goes on to mention the wonky sort of reports that many American houses have “…water leaks in cheap asphalt-shingle covered roofs, thin drywall…” and regarding energy, “…heating systems that heated the entire houses instead of individual rooms.” WSJ, 8. October, 2015.

It seems that most American home buyers, even those who can afford high quality construction, continue to place a lower value on well- constructed housing that has a low overall cost of ownership, and instead they prioritize being able to purchase the maximum amount of square feet for a particular price point. The trend has been to demand what I would call extraneous, nostalgic decoration and resort-like amenities such as room size TVs, whole house sound systems, Jacuzzi’s, security systems, etc.

That trend seems to be shifting, however. The tastes of the younger generation, those who have reached their 20s or 30s in the last 5 years, have shown a shift away from the obsession with the ‘shock and awe’ sort of housing design we have become very familiar with through suburban housing developers. The transition would now appear to be towards a more down-to-earth, high quality construction housing that helps a family do their part to mitigate climate change, and most of all, provides a healthy indoor environment and landscape.

What do the surveys say? Where are the best, most reliable places to look for what different sectors of the American demographic are thinking about housing? We have to ask; perhaps many Americans do not purchase better quality housing because they do not know how to measure it due to lack of information about the criteria and the standards. The situation is also caused by the fact that many of the largest homebuilders are simply not responding to the younger generation’s yearning for health and environmentalism and saving the planet.

As the New Home Source site remarks on their site.

“Cost savings — not environmental impact — played a major role in making energy efficiency a desirable characteristic. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they were concerned about the home’s impact on the environment, but would not pay more for it.” That is a very telling and a key issue. Many American homebuyers still do not see a monetary cash value to a healthy, energy efficient, and high quality home. A full study of these trends was done by the National Association of Home Builders and released in 2012.

better – Building Energy Efficiency will write more about this fascinating and to the energy efficiency market, key issue, in further blog posts. better invites your comments and input on all of these issues!

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