In the home building business, scarcely a day goes by without another news account of how green technology is catching on, both among builders and home buyers. But the third annual national "Energy Pulse" study from Shelton Group, an advertising and marketing agency based in Knoxville that specializes in energy efficient and environmentally friendly products, may give builders reason to pause before they jump onto the green bandwagon. This year's study, slated for release in early October, reports that consumers have grown wary of green technology, its cost, and its efficacy as the housing market slowdown took its toll on home buyer psychology during the past year.

William Gloede "Last year, when we asked the question, 'Would you choose an energy efficient home over one that is not?' 86 percent said they would," says Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. "This year, it's down to 69 percent. People now have sort of labeled energy efficiency and green as 'expensive.' In the words of our research director, 'the buy, buy, buy orgy is over.' Now the attitude is, 'If I can't make the money part work immediately, then I'm not going to do it.'"

The research indicates there are two demographic segments to which energy efficiency and green technology most appeal: those earning more than $100,000 per year and the 55-plus segment, according to Shelton. But she explains that those segments need to be further parsed for sales purposes.

"Right now, the buyer for a green, energy efficient home is an affluent, high-end buyer," Shelton says. But they come in different flavors.

For example, if the prospective home buyer drives up in a big Mercedes, BMW, or Hummer and appears to lean toward a conservative point of view, don't even try the pitch that green technology is good for the environment. They don't believe global warming is a man-made phenomenon. For this group, sell the savings by doing the math. Shelton's advice is to convince them that the technology gives them more control over their lives and their expenses.

If the prospect drives up in a Prius with anti-Bush bumper stickers plastered across the back, you can go to town with the environmental message, and it might work. But they, too, want to see that the technology saves them money in the long run.

As for the 55-plus buyer, Shelton says, "You really have to show them the math and prove it to them. They are going to be motivated by the practicality of this–and maybe a little bit of guilt persuasion [from the save-the-planet pitch]."

Large-scale, expensive systems such as photovoltaics, geothermal HVAC, and high-tech construction methods including insulated concrete forms and structural integrated panels have become a harder sell in the housing downturn. In addition to interviewing more than 500 consumers nationwide, Shelton conducted two focus groups each in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Denver, and San Diego. The research indicates that $10,000 is the threshold at which consumers will consider energy efficient technology, but when asked how they would spend an extra $10,000 in the construction budget, 26.47 percent picked granite countertops. While 23.53 percent said they would opt for high efficiency HVAC systems, solar panels were chosen by only 14.71 percent, high efficiency or tankless water heaters by only 11.76 percent, and high efficiency/UV windows by only 8.82 percent.

Another key finding in this year's survey is that there is not much potential in pushing energy efficient appliances in a new-home package. The reason? "At this point, it's expected," Shelton says.

In other words, energy efficiency and green building technology are all about the money, just like everything else. Builders just have to pick their prospects a little more carefully and sell to specific people within broader segments. For more information, visit

2007 Energy Pulse

Given an extra $10,000 in your construction budget, which two of the following items would you choose?

  • Granite Countertops 26.47%
  • High Efficiency HVAC Unit 23.53%
  • Upgraded/Additional Energy Efficient Kitchen Appliances 20.59%
  • Additional Tile or Hardwood 20.59%
  • Indoor Air Purification System 17.65%
  • Solar Panels 14.71%
  • Finished Bonus Room/Basement 14.71%
  • High Efficiency/Tankless Water Heater 11.76%
  • Home Theater System 11.76%
  • Customized Closet Features 11.76%
  • High Efficiency/UV Windows 8.82%

Source: Shelton Group