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Energy efficient homes a hit with consumers, but more work to be done, says NHBC

Green building news - by GreenWise staff
14th February 2012
Householder satisfaction is high among occupiers of new energy efficient homes, but energy efficiency is still not pressing the right buttons with consumers, according to a major new piece of research by the NHBC Foundation.
In the first in-depth independent report looking at attitudes around energy efficient new homes, released today, the NHBC has found that 95 per cent of occupiers of homes built to high energy efficiency standard in the last two to three years are highly satisfied with the experience of living in their homes. There is good feedback, too, on the energy performance of the new homes, with over half saying their energy bills are lower than in their old homes.

But while the report shows a positive shift in consumer attitude and engagement towards overall energy efficiency over the last few years, it reveals energy efficiency still remains a minor consideration for consumers when buying a home – despite the fact that 96 per cent of them now regard the cost of energy bills as important. For example, most said they would spend any money saved on energy bills on things that would increase their carbon footprint, such as a new television or foreign holiday, rather than additional energy saving measures. 

Information off the mark
There is evidence, too, that consumers are not being given the right information about the benefits of energy efficiency when buying a home. Just 12 per cent said Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) influenced their decision, with most saying information on utility bills – quantified in monitory terms – would be helpful in making a decision about buying a new home, rather than simply being told it is energy efficient. 

There is also inconsistency when it comes to how consumers place a premium value on a new home. While only a small number of occupiers are prepared to pay a premium for an energy efficient new home, a high number of occupiers stated in the research that they would pay a premium when it was directly linked with a saving in energy bills.

Those occupying low carbon homes also reported receiving inconsistent or inadequate information about in-home energy efficiency technologies, meaning it is unlikely they would be using their home to its full energy-saving potential, according to the report. 

"The research suggests that parts of the new home supply chain could be making the topic of energy efficiency too complicated, from the range of terminologies used, to the technologies themselves," Neil Jefferson, director, NHBC Foundation said.

Zero carbon confusion
The study, which also polled the views of housebuilders and housing associations, found confusion around the definition and costs of construction of zero carbon homes as well as scepticism around implementation of zero carbon targets. From 2016 all new homes must be built to zero carbon standard. However, approximately half of housebuilder and housing association respondents said the zero carbon requirements would be achieved between 2016 and 2020. Some thought it would never happen.

The study, which was based on findings from focus groups and interviews with over 1000 occupiers and over 100 housebuilders and housing associations, concludes that "unraveling" zero carbon should be a key focus of action for the housing supply chain and policymakers going forward.

It makes a number of recommendations, including getting housebuilders and housing associations to make their marketing materials clearer and more relevant to the homebuyer, while ensuring instructions on use and maintenance of the home’s technological features are more comprehensive and easier to understand for the occupier.

It calls on valuers and mortgage lenders to factor in the higher levels of energy efficiency of new homes into their valuation and lending decisions. 

And it recommends that the Government undertake a review of the EPC to ensure it better informs consumers with actual energy use costs. 

At the same time, it calls on policymakers to confirm the remaining parts of the zero carbon definition urgently to give the industry the confidence to move forward.

Jefferson said "a cross-industry commitment to simplify zero carbon living" was what was needed. "In some cases, it may be just a question of communicating with consumers in a different way," he added.

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