Assuming equivalent energy efficiency, we could sell a "greener" window or door...

John G. Swanson
August 29, 2007
THE TALK...

The Talk, Page 2...

Survey Results for 08/29/2007:

Assuming equivalent energy efficiency, we could sell a "greener" window or door...

No premium, but "greener" might keep a buyer from going to a competitor.

 

 

59%

 

...up to 10% more.

 

 

16%

 

If characteristics are the same, "greener" won't sway a customer.

 

 

12%

 

...for 10% to 25% more.

 

 

11%

 

...at a premium of more than 25%.

 

 

2%

 

 Last week, we told the tale of a Home Depot experiment designed to determine how much more consumers might pay for wood certified as environmentally friendly versus ordinary wood. The answer the retailer got was “not much.”

Consumers will pay extra for “green,” when energy efficiency and future savings on fuel bills are part of the equation, according to the Home Depot executive discussing the experiment, but green for green’s sake is a tougher upsell. And that seems to be the opinion of much of the industry, based on last week’s poll results.

Less than 30 percent of respondents see consumers willing to pay a premium for something that’s greener when energy efficiency is taken out of the equation. Among those seeing a willingness among window and door buyers to pay more for green, most suggest the premium will be less than 10 percent.

Green for green’s sake may not offer a huge value-added opportunity, but many still see value in being “green.” While they don’t expect buyers to pay a premium, more than half of our respondents indicated that offering something “greener” might be useful on the marketing front, keeping prospects from going to a competitor.

The following email I received probably best sums up the industry sentiment. “Buyers will gladly buy green products for the same price as traditional products, but resent having to pay more for the same product with the same end result on the job site,” suggests one distributor. There are a few “green zealots” out there willing to pay more, he continues, but “most people have to worry about the bottom line.”

His email also suggests some of the frustrations within the industry concerning what is being defined as green. “The truth is that wood is all from managed forests these days,” he notes, “so lumber is ‘green’ anyway.”

I also heard from another reader who asked, “Is there any authoritative source that we can refer customers to that want to verify that vinyl replacement windows meet ‘green’ classification?” The answer to that question, I’m afraid, is “no.”

One can certainly point to the Energy Star label as an authoritative source that a product is fairly energy efficient, which is probably the most important single element in a window or door’s “greenness,” but that label does not cover all the concerns of the environmentally minded buyer. Wood product manufacturers can point to a variety of certification programs to indicate their materials come from environmentally responsible foresters. Among vinyl product manufacturers, I know of at least one, Weather Shield Windows & Doors, which is certifying its products for recycled content. There is no such thing, however, as a green label for windows or doors.

To date, green ratings have primarily been applied to buildings—not building products. The residential rating systems offered by the U.S. Green Building Council and the National Association of Home Builders, for example, give green credits for use of Energy Star windows and doors, as well as credits for use of building components made with recycled content and “certified” wood. There’s no way for a window or door manufacturer to put a USGBC or NAHB Green Guidelines label on its products, however.

For the foreseeable future, it seems, I suspect a window or door’s greenness will largely be determined by its energy efficiency. That may not be such a bad thing either. In thinking about the subject, I couldn’t help but recall a report about some comments from Kermit Baker, an economist with the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, made during an NAHB teleconference earlier this year. He suggested that even with all the talk of global warming, the big driver for the explosion of interest in green building was basically higher energy prices.

Energy prices will always fluctuate, but the bar was raised following Hurricane Katrina. The effects of that shift continue to filter through the economy, Baker explained, and are a big part of the widespread adoption of the green agenda within the building and construction arena.

We reported it back then, but I think it’s worth noting one of his other observations during that teleconference. Looking at the remodeling market, he said that homeowners rarely invest in energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits immediately following increases in fuel bills. Typically, he noted, the bulk of such investments are made three to six years after energy prices hit a new, higher plateau.

Well it’s been two years since Katrina and our first taste of gas at $3 a gallon or higher. If Baker is right, more homeowners will be in the market for energy efficient windows and doors in the next few years. So questions about what is green will linger, but the opportunities will still be there.

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