Back in 2008 when product green-washing fears were at an all-time frenzy, leaving home buyers bewildered about which eco-claims were legit, visionary architect Michelle Kaufmann released a white paper proposing that all houses come with sustainability labels akin to the nutrition labels the FDA requires on food packaging. As a prototype, she mocked up a “sustainability facts” label for her acclaimed “Breezehouse,” itemizing key metrics such as its square footage, energy consumption, carbon emissions, and insulation R-values.
Kaufmann’s business model ultimately proved unsustainable through the deep freeze in banking (her prefab company closed its doors in 2009 and sold its design assets to Boston-based Blu Homes). But the labeling idea clearly had some sticking power. Last February, public builder KB Home put a similar concept into practice with the debut of its Energy Performance Guide (EPG) label, which now comes standard on every house it builds. Touted as the house equivalent of the miles-per-gallon (MPG) fuel efficiency rating for cars, the EPG sticker appeals to consumers’ wallets (and, secondarily, to their environmental conscience) by spelling out the estimated monthly costs for heating and cooling, appliances, and lighting. The sticker also includes a HERS yardstick that charts how the home’s energy consumption stacks up against other comparably sized new and resale homes.
This new brand of calorie counting is a natural evolution for a builder that already builds all of its homes to Energy Star standards, claims KB Home president and CEO Jeffrey Mezger, whose company sold 7,346 homes in 2010, earning it a ranking as the nation’s fifth largest home builder on the Builder 100. “When we buy a new car, the MPG shows us what we can expect to pay at the pump,” he says. “We are now able to provide that same type of guidance to consumers who are in the market for a new home. Now, more than ever, people do not want surprises when it comes to buying a home.”
Unless it’s a happy surprise—such as the promise of a monthly utility bill that falls below the $100 mark.