Melbourne, FL – Sunday, October 13, 2013 – Since we returned from the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance Conference in Phoenix, discussions with the U.S. Department of Energy have accelerated regarding the possibility that LifeStyle Homes may agree to build a DOE Challenge Home to test the latest thinking of building scientists about how to push the envelope of energy efficiency and environmental preservation in a home consumers will want to buy. Up until now, the high performance new home movement has been split somewhat between people who believe energy efficiency should be the primary goal and others who say environmental preservation should come first. The brand new DOE Challenge Home program seeks to marry the best aspects of both schools of thought.
LifeStyle Homes was quick to jump onto the bandwagon of DOE’s original Builders Challenge program (yes, two programs with very similar names) because it allowed us to offer clearly superior homes that consumers liked because they were cost neutral to own. Cost neutrality applies when an increased monthly mortgage payment resulting from the higher cost to build a better home is offset by lower monthly electricity payments because the better home uses less electricity. This is exactly what our guaranteed HERS 59, LifeStyle Sunsmart(SM) homes do as verified by independent third-party scientific verification.
We know this standard of construction, (DOE’s Builders Challenge) works, because we have sold and built over 225 of these homes in the last three years. Our customers have appreciated being able to make a real contribution to environmental preservation by buying homes that prevent huge amounts of harmful greenhouse gasses from being emitted by electric generation plants, but their primary motivation was to save money on their electric bills while enjoying a higher standard of family home life. They and we tended to believe an energy efficient home that saves money and saves the environment is the right kind of “Green” building to go for, because homes that can do both actually get built for the simple reason that consumers want them. Economists refer to the free market working this way as Demand Pull. Consumers, seeking what’s best for themselves, pull these homes through the building process because they want to own and live in one of them.
But, in Washington, there is considerable pressure to encourage the building of more doctrinaire “Green” homes; those that impose restrictions on all sorts of components that go into a home to make sure the impact on the environment from the building process itself is held down. Doing this is surely a worthy goal, but the facts are that true “Green” homes like these cost significantly more to build and therefore must be sold at higher prices to recover the additional costs involved. This means fewer people can qualify to buy “Green” homes and many more choose not to buy “Green” homes because the economics of owning one of them does not work. “Green” home buyers must be willing to pay extra to get “Green-certified” homes. Surely there are people who will do this (Thank you!) but getting more of these homes built requires what economists call Supply Push. Since not so many people are anxious to pay extra to own one of these homes, somehow the supply of them must be pushed onto the people.
The age-old way of applying Supply Push is for government to enact legislation or impose regulations to force people to do something they otherwise would choose not to do. Nobody, not even DOE, wants to do this if a better alternative can be found. This is why the new DOE Challenge Home program is being tested. Working together and learning together, government and free enterprise are looking for the sweet spot that will allow us all to benefit from better homes being added to the nation’s housing stock without forcing anyone to do anything.