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JOHN D. WAGNER: What Are Green Remodelers Buying?

Efficient windows top the list, followed by HVAC systems, and Energy Star appliances.


There’s no one closer to the construction consumer than remodelers, and that’s not just because they have the highest chance of any tradesmen of seeing their clients in their PJs. It’s because remodelers often sit with their clients to parse through material choices. Unlike new home builders, who may meet their buyers for the first time at the closing, remodelers are faceto- face with their buyers every day.

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So, what do remodelers report are the most popular green products? Not surprisingly, they are items that offer the highest and most immediate return on investment, typically through lower operating costs. A recent survey of remodelers was conducted by NAHB’s Remodeling Market Index, and it found that energy efficient windows are the most popular product selection, reported as the top green product choice by 89% of remodelers. Next were high-efficiency energy systems (70%) and programmable thermostats (70%). Energy Star appliances came in next at a 69% share, and a little further down the list, “moisture control measures to enhance durability” with a 62% share, a de facto acknowledgement that a rotting house which has to be torn apart and rebuilt isn’t a very green structure at all.

Now, let’s jump to the bottom of the list and see what was the least popular. “Solar water heaters” came in at a 5% share, in all likelihood because they are initially expensive to install, and plus, with remodeling jobs, it may be that the house wasn’t initially architecturally designed to accommodate passive solar water heaters. “Passive solar design” also comes in very low (12%). Again, no surprise, because it’s hard to reorient a house that’s already built. I suspect this would come in much higher on new construction, where there’s more attention to the alignment of a house and the fenestration pattern to avoid solar gain.

“Prefabricated components” scored just a 21% share, which surprised me. Perhaps the term “prefabricated components” is too broad. When I read it, I think of trusses and wall panels, which are very green indeed, in terms of their economic use of wood and their ability to be integrally designed into comprehensively energy-efficient wall and roof systems.

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We start to get up to just under 50% share with some decidedly green remodeling practices that were essentially unheard of 10 years ago, and I think that the market share reported in this survey is a sign of increasing acceptance, not lack of popularity. “Materials from regional suppliers” scored a 49% share among remodelers, which shows at least two trends: One is an awareness of how energy intensive it is to ship building products long distances, when locally produced products can do just as well. Two, I wonder if, as we see in food markets, remodelers just want to “buy local” to see the positive impact of their dollars benefiting their neighbors.

Using “building materials with recycled content” scored a 47% share, likely reflecting the fact that these products are more widely available and, in fact, harder to avoid even if you wanted to. Finally, “use of reused or salvaged materials” scored a 39% share. I’d bet half my kid’s college fund that this is mostly recovered wood flooring or recovered wood used for cabinets.

In the end, the proliferation of what used to be viewed as odd-ball products and practices are becoming increasingly mainstream, but at the end of the day, green building is really still fairly old fashioned: good windows, a solid HVAC package, and appliances that don’t cost a fortune to operate

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