Trendwatch – Homebuyers Concerned about the Health of their Homes: Starting to Connect High Performance Features to Healthier Living

5 minute read

From the increasing interest in activity trackers (like Jawbone Up and FitBit) and health apps on smartphones (Runtastic, MapMyFitness), to the continuing obsession with heathy food and supplements/vitamins/antioxidants, to growing concern about environmental contaminants (BPA, fire retardants), health is clearly a trending consumer concern.

The success of this product category is connected to the consumer belief that health can be controlled through consumer choices. And as consumers want their activity trackers and iPhones to make them healthier, homebuyers are coming to see heath as a criterion for homes, too. As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand and impact homebuilding and buying, it seems clear that along with the ability to better control their comfort, energy use and security, homebuyers will soon come to see their homes as a product which should enhance their health.

At the same time, studies show that homebuyers are beginning to make the connection between high performance home features and overall healthier homes.

Consumer concerns about healthy homes have been getting more attention in academic circles—for example, check out the 2014 Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ homeowner survey on the topic. Elizabeth La Jeunesse, one of their research analysts, provides a nice snapshot of the results in a recent blog. Indoor air quality topped the list of concerns at 69%.

They are also achieving a high penetration even in consumer-facing businesses like Houzz.com, which released its own study in October of last year. When we contacted the research department at Houzz, they said their motivation for doing the 2014 Houzz Healthy Home Trends study was that the concept of the healthy home had started to come up more and more as a conversation buzzword and search term on the site, which has 2.8 million professional users and roughly 25 million unique visitors per month.

Since Houzz focuses mainly on consumers at the level of home design and decor with a bent towards remodeling and custom building, the study doesn’t provide the actionable results Alliance builders are looking for at the market level. However, there are some important general trends to note.

Homeowners consider moisture and air quality top indoor health issues, and many are unsure about the health of their homes. The Houzz study mirrors the results of Harvard Joint Center, indicating that of all the concerns people have about their homes, the most common worries are excess moisture and indoor air quality. Houzz further broke these answers down to percentages of people who said they had a healthy or unhealthy home.

What might be surprising to homebuilders, though, is the number of homeowners who said they were concerned about the health of their homes. More than a quarter of respondents said they were uncertain about health problems in their home, and one in five said their homes were positively unhealthy. This reveals a considerable amount of anxiety among homeowners of both new and older homes that is set to grow as interest in home health increases.

Newer homes are perceived as more healthy. Respondents rated newer homes healthier, and improving health was a major factor offered for recent or planned renovations. That’s clearly good news for builders, as homebuyers already seem to have a tendency to contrast the healthier environments offered by new homes vs. the possible dangers of existing homes. It’s also an excellent starting place to discuss with homebuyers the many kinds of benefits offered by high performance homes that contribute to health.

Opportunities for builders. Since health is a growing concern for homebuyers, builders should be prepared to bring health benefits to the table as part of their sales and marketing efforts. Of course, the challenge, which this and other studies have revealed, is that homebuyers define health differently. For some, that will be a tight home that has less dust and fewer allergens; for others, it will be a home with a highly effective ventilation system that keeps mold and chemical contaminants from building up. Consider providing a slightly more inclusive list of benefits your homes offer upfront and using one-on-one interactions to make the benefits personal.

There is also data to show a growing association in consumers’ minds between high performance buildings and green materials on one hand, and health on the other hand—something builders can encourage and capitalize on.

As Suzanne Shelton said in a recent blog post, “Our Eco Pulse research reveals year after year that health is the prime motivator for many American consumers to make more sustainable choices.” Arguing that homes are “better for the environment” might not get builders very far with some buyers, but arguing that high performance homes are “better for your family” could be a more successful strategy.

The increase in number of studies about health in homes reflects an increased level of consumer interest, but because consumer attitudes are still evolving, we have yet to see any data from these studies that is actionable at the market level. One thing is certain—this trend is not going away. We’ll continue to watch for insights in the marketplace and look at ways we can explore health further through How We Live™ research.

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