Energy Matters

7 Home Performance Trends to Watch in 2014

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Savvy HVAC Contractors Will Continue to Expand into
Home Performance (and vice-versa)

I’ve certainly been talking a lot about this over the last couple of years. The reasons that “HVAC-2-HP” makes so much sense remain the same. I’m also seeing strong interest from those who practice home performance but don’t offer HVAC in-house to make the move to integrate the two under one roof. I’m expecting manufacturer interest to grow as well. Those who ignore the connection with be at a real competitive disadvantage.

Electricity Rates on the Rise?

The economy continues its (slow) recovery. With it, we might see utility rates increase, too. In fact, it’s happening already in some areas. They’re creeping up in Texas. 30% increases in San Diego point to what we can expect in California.  Look for the same in the Northeast.

Energy costs aren’t usually the big driver in more comprehensive efficiency retrofits. But that shifts a bit when prices are higher—and especially when they’re rising. (We get used to plateaus, but we seem to notice changes.) This will be an incremental boost, not a game changer, but it’s going in the right direct to support demand for efficiency. That said, at the end of the day, at least in 2014, it will still be comfort, durability, comfort, IAQ, and comfort.

Passive Houses and Net-Zero Energy Homes

Passive Houses are gaining momentum. Market penetration still rounds to zero, but they’re serving as good example of what can be. And the smart people involved are generating some interesting technical innovation.

Just as important, perhaps another side of the same coin, are net-zero energy homes. And they’re being offered by production builders, even as affordable homes.  “Zero,” like “Free,”  captures the attention a lot more that “Efficient” or “Low-Cost”. This has the potential to greatly change expectations about how homes can and should perform, not just from an energy perspective, but also from a comfort perspective.

Passive Survivability::Resilence

One of the great things about very efficient homes is the fact the when disaster strikes and you are without power for days or weeks, even in the middle of winter or a brutal heat wave, your home is still livable. This has started to enter the conversation, and I expect that to continue as we see 100-year storms, 100-year droughts, 100-year heat waves with increasing regularity.  This is still a small factor, but it’s growing and adding to the recognized benefits of and motivators for efficiency.

Solar PV Grows More and More Mainstream

Prices for solar continue to drop. We’ll have to see how far that continues especially as demand is expected to grow by as much as 25% worldwide in 2014.

It’s not clear whether leasing will displace ownership in the residential market. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. But leasing has certainly driven more installations on the roofs of homes in the U.S. Some markets are cooking. San Diego, for example, is seeing big growth even as incentives have ratcheted down.

How this impacts home performance work depends on who is doing the talking. Many companies are simply pushing PV, and they compete for dollars with efficiency services. Others, though, use demand for solar to engage in a much bigger conversation, and solar serves as a entrée to efficiency. If you don’t talk solar at all, you risk not being part of the discussion.

Nest and other Connected Thermostats

The Nest thermostat is still too expensive for most homeowners. But then who would have thought a decade ago that $500 phones where anything more than a niche product?  Nest and other connected thermostats are gaining traction with early adopters who are shining light on the potential from a consumer perspective. To that add utility interest in plugging into these devices and a hardware/software grounding to enhance the type of behavioral approaches used by Opower and others, and I don’t think you can ignore this.  (We could also talk about dynamic utility pricing. While that has the potential to be a huge game-changer in the residential space, it’s too early to call it a trend. Maybe next year?)

Like with home performance generally, though, the big traction will likely not by driven by energy, but rather by three C’s: Cool, Comfort, Convenence.

(As an aside, it’s too bad the Nest Protect, the smoke and CO detector didn’t take a more robust approach and enable low-level CO monitoring offering better protection.)

Google+, Yelp, Angie’s List, and more

Word of mouth has always been a big deal in residential contracting. It’s one of the biggest ways we find new customers. Increasingly, and in some markets faster than others, word of mouth has taken steriods and is driving business in the form of online reviews. Consumers trust the reviews, and increasingly they’re using reviews to identify and select contractors. You need to pay attention to this. See this Efficiency First webinar for a more detailed overview and discussion.

Which trends do you see as being particularly relevant to home performance, and your business, in 2014?

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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+

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