Selling sustainability and energy efficiency to home buyers is still no walk in the park but customers are increasingly receptive to the idea, according to sustainability-conscious builder Mark Maloney.
Maloney is the founder and managing director of ANSA Homes, a small-to-medium-sized home builder based in Sydney that delivers around 100 homes a year.
While residential builders are typically quite resistant to sustainability and energy efficiency, building self-sustaining homes is embedded into the vision statement of Maloney’s company.
“It’s stemmed off our vision where ‘everyone has a home’ … it’s about how can we make communities that are self-sustaining, and we also realise we’re part of a finite world with finite resources.”
ANSA Homes claims to be the only Australian builder to follow the principles of Energie Einspar Verordnung (EnEV), the low-energy construction code in Germany, a leader in sustainable and energy efficient buildings.
Translated into English as German Energy Saving Ordinance, Maloney says the savings you can make on heating and cooling are “really obvious” by using the EnEV principles to remove draughts and thermal bridges.
“But there’s also benefits from living in a healthier environment.”
Sustainability is still hard to sell in homes
Selling sustainability to customers can be a bit of an uphill battle because home builder marketing has traditionally pitted sustainability against desired design outcomes as an “either or”.
There was a time when it was more of a choice, but Maloney says that the industry has managed to bring high sustainability performance down to a negligible amount more than standard, with compelling payback periods.
The bigger problem remains selling the value to the customer, who sometimes still fails to grasp the benefits of lower bills at the expense of a slightly higher initial build cost.
It’s particularly difficult in a temperate climate like NSW, where power bills for heating and cooling are typically much lower than places with extreme climates such as Tasmania.
Ask the right questions and sustainability will sell itself
Maloney says that asking the right questions is key to attracting more customers to sustainability features.
The good news is that few customers are now overtly opposed to sustainability. He says that the decision-making framework is around payback – people like the idea of sustainability as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of lifestyle and outcomes.
It’s just a matter of convincing people that the home won’t look like something “out the back of a farm” by focusing on outcomes.
“Our job is now asking questions around outcomes: ‘What do you want to achieve? If we could offer you a home that’s affordable, healthy and sustainable, how does that sound?’”
Maloney says no one is boiling sustainability down to “something that’s saleable to the consumer”, and that it’s framed around convoluted energy efficiency ratings and metrics.
He says when the questions are framed that way, his team is “rarely met with resistance.”
While you’d expect that the horror bushfire season might be nudging people to ask more questions about sustainability, Maloney hasn’t noticed a dramatic uptick from natural disasters.
He says interest in sustainability has grown progressively for a number of reasons, including the rise of green home loans that allow prospective home owners to secure discounted finance for meeting pre-determined sustainability requirements, such as a high energy rating.
Home market slow to move but signs of change
Maloney says that there are a few reasons that the residential and project home industry tend to be “a little more regressive” than the commercial market on sustainability.
For a start, many home builders “don’t see the value”, especially when there’s little competitive incentive, and Maloney also says that there are supply chain restrictions on home builders, with long supply chains and long term locked-in suppliers.
“So it’s a little bit difficult to move quickly in that space.”
However, Maloney says change is inevitable, with governments looking to tighten up requirements on energy efficiency and minimum standards. The entry of voluntary tools such as Green Star for Homes will also help drive change.