Evolving Beyond Energy Efficiency to Health

Marketing health will become an important part of marketing homes as consumers lead a more examined life, particularly as it relates to their health and the health of their families
By Gene Myers

“It’s not that easy being green,” sang Kermit the Frog to Sesame Street viewers back in 1970, and for many years the phrase summed up the homebuilding industry. But the last few years have seen a shift as more and more homebuilders choose to build energy-efficient homes.

In late 2015, Dodge Data & Analytics estimated that green building accounted for 26-33 percent of the total residential market, up from just 2 percent in 2005. Growth has been driven by building code advancement, but it also can be attributed to the recognition that green building was a way to attract buyers during the last very challenging years.
So, what will be the point of difference now that energy-efficient homes have moved into the mainstream?

We believe health is the new green. In a consumer study for Women’s Marketing, Rodale estimated that the health and wellness market space is poised to be the next trillion-dollar industry globally. Smart brands are promoting their healthy attributes, and smart builders should too. As consumers lead a more examined life, particularly as it relates to their health and the health of their families, they are willing to pay a premium for products they believe will help. Unlike many of the products that line the health food aisles, however, a healthy home has real benefits, backed by scientific truths.

What makes up a “healthy home”?
The answer is in the air we breathe. A Harvard professor, Joseph Allen, sums it up best: “We have been ignoring the 90 percent. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought.”

Allen’s statement was reported in a 2015 study by Harvard’s School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University, which found that people who work in offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores than those who work in offices with typical levels.
How does a healthy home get built?
In 2013, we embarked on answering this question. As one of the first production builders of zero-energy homes, we were accustomed to exploring new frontiers and believed that a healthy home was exactly what our target buyer was after. As pioneers, we also had figured out ways to build a high-performance home without charging high-performance prices. Starting in 2015, we changed the name of our company to Thrive Home Builders, to reflect the focus on health, and began designing new single- and multi-family homes that lived up to the name. Throughout our planning, we relied heavily on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor airPLUS, a voluntary partnership and labeling program.

With Indoor airPLUS as a foundation, we looked at two aspects: (1) source control, or how to minimize pollutants by using low-emission building materials, and (2) advanced ventilation, or how to make sure the ventilation system effectively exhausts the polluted air and replaces it with clean air. Though we overhauled our designs, we did find that building a healthy home is a natural evolution of building an energy-efficient home. Indoor airPLUS is a companion program to the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, and many of the practices we use to build a home that is better for the environment results in a home that is also better for the owner.

If you build a healthy home, will buyers come?
This question—probably the most important—is also the hardest to answer. Our new generation of healthy homes will come out of the ground in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood in mid-2017, so we don’t yet know how buyers will react to this product. We do, however, have a very positive outlook, based on both a gut feeling and facts.

Our facts are based on our homes that already offer above-average air quality. I recently had a chance to talk with one of our buyers, who was overjoyed at both her energy bill and her doctor bills. After a month of living in her home that featured excellent ventilation and moisture control, she was able to stop taking her allergy medications completely.

Which brings me to the “gut feeling.” We are among the very first to design a home to standards of air quality that substantially exceed the Indoor airPLUS standard, but I truly feel the marketing potential of health is much stronger than energy efficiency. For years, when people came into our sales office, we had to convince them that they should care about energy-efficiency and then educate them using wonky language like HERS scores and Zero Energy. With health, they walk in the door knowing that they care about it. All we have to do is align with them.

Gene Myers is the founder and CEO of t, a Denver-based builder of award-winning, DOE Certified Zero Energy and Zero Energy homes available throughout Denver and its suburbs. Myers is recognized as a pioneer in zero energy building, and leads the homebuilding industry into the next frontier by building well-crafted homes that promote both energy-efficiency and homeowners’ wellness. Its. He may be reached at http://thrivehomebuilders.com.