More customers are concerned about the environmental aspect of their homes than ever before. What a great time to make this a standard offering.

The key to getting more people into net zero homes could be an opt-out rather than an opt-in strategy, where customer have to downgrade from sustainability features rather than upgrade into them.

This is a strategy on the cards for volume home builder Stockland, which has recently completed its first “zero net carbon” home in its master-planned, medium density community, Orion, at Braybrook in Melbourne’s west. The home was completed in collaboration with Sustainability Victoria in accordance with the state government’s Zero Net Carbon Homes pilot program.

The aim of the program is to accelerate the volume home builder sector, which has traditionally been slow to innovate, towards net zero.

The program provides technical expertise to design and construct least-cost net zero homes. It also offers marketing strategy advice to increase consumer demand and sell the benefits of net zero homes including better comfort, health and wellbeing.

According to Stockland national general manager of development Ben Cantwell, the pilot has been particularly useful to help sales teams learn to communicate the benefits of sustainable homes.

Taking more of an opt out rather than opt in approach has been one of the key insights. By embedding sustainability into a volume builder’s mainstream offering, Cantwell says customers must choose to downgrade from sustainability rather than ask for upgrades as an add-on.

He says it’s more psychologically compelling to think of sustainability as a baseline feature that “other customers have and you’ll miss out on”, rather than as an upgrade from the standard offering.

The way volume builders typically market sustainability and energy efficiency has been found to inadvertently turn customers off.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and Queensland University of Technology have found that high energy performance is often presented as a package or add-on alongside other “sexier” offerings, such as home entertainment setups, making sustainability a tough sell.

Another point to consider is that there’s no set way to communicate to customers. Some might be more interested in the comfort component of an energy efficiency home, whereas others are motivated by the financial savings.

The good news, Cantwell says, is that more customers are concerned about the environmental impact of their home than ever before.

The volume home builders first “zero net carbon” home

The home has a 7-star NatHERS rating, which Cantwell says is fairly inexpensive to do through design tweaks such as orientation, layout and window location to maximise energy from the sun.

Stockland’s Ben Cantwell

To meet Sustainability Victoria’s requirements, the home also has higher rated appliances, increased insulation and a 3.3 kilowatt solar system.

The final certification, made official by passing blower door tests for airtightness and other tests by a third party consultant, is based on the department’s net zero definition that expects a home to produce enough renewable energy to meet its requirements over the course of the year.

While the home is not quite energy bill-free due to the difference between export and import costs of energy and connection fees, it’s expected to shave $1000 a year from a family of four’s energy bills.

Cantwell says that the pilot still cost the builder an extra 10 to 15 per cent (to a total sale price of about $669,000) but expects these costs to continue to come down when the builder starts delivering them at scale.

While none of the componentry, such as additional insulation and energy efficient appliances, costs a great deal extra on their own, in combination they start to add up.

He also says the thermal imaging and blower door testing add to the cost.

But for Cantwell, when volume builders such as Stockland are leading the way to net zero homes it will make it easier for the rest of the industry to follow by maturing the supply chain, upskilling the workforce and educating consumers.

“We’re continually pushing ourselves to raise the bar to set ourselves as a leader, which will help the broader industry to move forward.”

The company has also joined other volume builders, including Australia’s biggest volume builder Metricon, to commit to a demonstration project that aligns with the new Green Star standard for healthy, resilient, net zero homes.

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