Building science guru Sam Rashkin stopped by the BUILDER offices recently. The founder of the Energy Star program met with editors to bring us up to speed on his latest endeavor, running the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Office.
Aside from helping builders construct better, more durable, more efficient homes, Rashkin and his team are working to create consumer interest in high-performance homes. Projects certified to programs such as Energy Star for New Homes or the DOE's Zero Energy Home program give buyers peace of mind and help small to middle size firms differentiate themselves in markets dominated by big builders. "It means you can say you're in the top 1% of builders across the country in terms of credibility," he told us.
The Zero Energy Ready Home program helps participating builders communicate this message of credibility by providing customizable marketing materials that contain messages about durability, health, quality, and efficiency. Rashkin has been studying the type of words used in these messages, and his office is on a crusade to help U.S. builders rethink the way they explain their energy-efficient offerings to customers.
For example, he said, it's difficult to sell buyers on items like transfer grilles and ventilation systems but by rewording the language, most consumers would likely be interested in products called comfort vents and fresh air systems. "You use a phrase that consumers will connect with, not that will turn them off," he said. "Nobody wants to be audited so why use the term ‘energy audit?' A ‘home checkup' sounds so much nicer."
The department's new Building Science Translator provides a glossary of "power words" that builders can use to reinforce the value of high-performance homes. These terms are based on the consumer experience rather than building science, Rashkin told us. For the next few months, the agency is inviting builders to provide their thoughts about building science terms that could use a power makeover.
Here are a few of the terms that the DOE has transformed from potentially off-putting to consumer-oriented:
|OLD TERM||NEW POWER TERM|
|High-R Window||High-Efficiency Window|
|Sealed and Flashed Window||Premium-Installed Window|
|High-R Insulation||High-Efficiency or Super- Insulation|
|Fully Aligned Air Barriers||Premium-Installed Draft Barrier|
|Reduced Thermal Bridging||Thermal Buffer Construction|
|Raised Heel Truss||Energy Saving Attic Edge Insulation|
|Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)||Energy Saving SIP Wall/Roof Thermal Buffer|
|Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)||Energy Saving ICF Wall Thermal Buffer|
|Double-Wall Framing||Energy Saving Double-Wall Thermal Buffer|
|2-Stud Corner with Drywall Clips||Energy Saving Corner Framing|
|Insulated Headers||Energy Saving Window Framing|
|Radiant Barrier||Energy Saving Sun Control Layer|
|Proper Sizing HVAC System||Engineered Comfort System Sizing|
|Proper Duct Installation||Premium-Installed Comfort Delivery Ducts|
|Tight Duct Sealing||Premium-Sealed Comfort Delivery Ducts|
|Pressure Balancing Bedrooms||Comfort Balanced Rooms|
|Ducted Returns||Optimized Air Flow Comfort Delivery|
|Dehumidification||Whole-House Moisture Control System|
|HVAC System Diagnostics New Homes||Comfort System Certified Performance|
|Ductless Mini- Split Heat Pump||Advanced Ductless Heat Pump Technology|
|High-Efficiency Gas Furnace||Advanced Furnace Technology|
|Variable Speed HVAC System||Advanced Comfort Flow Technology|
|Storage Water Heater||Advanced Water Heating Technology|
|Heat Pump Water Heater||Advanced Heat Pump Water Heating Technology|
|Solar Hot Water||Free Hot Water Solar System|
|High-Efficiency Appliances||Advanced Appliance Technology|
|High-Efficiency Lighting||Advanced Lighting Technology|
To me, this call to change the way builders present information about their sustainable homes seems like a great idea. It's a simple, free approach that builders can use to help explain and sell green features, which are generally more expensive than traditional building techniques.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Which type of term are you using with your customers? Respond in the COMMENTS section below.