Survey Says: Home Buyers Want Energy-Efficient Appliances

In a recent Sears survey of 100 top home builders, 71% said home buyers ex-pressed interest in buying energy-efficient appliances.

May 31, 2002

In a recent Sears survey of 100 top home builders, 71% said home buyers expressed interest in buying energy-efficient appliances. However, 93% said that one-quarter or fewer of their buyers requested an Energy Star appliance at closing. This despite U.S. Energy Department efforts to promote the benefits of Energy Star-labeled appliances, which vary in efficiency depending on the product. Refrigerators, for example, must be 10% more energy-efficient than government standards and clothes washers 50% more efficient.

Bill Collins, Sears’ vice president/general manager of builder sales, attributes the contradiction in part to buyers’ lack of choice. The survey found that 72% of builders offered only one brand of appliance while 97% said at least a quarter of their buyers had requested multiple brand selection. Energy Star says 17 manufacturers make Energy Star-rated refrigerators.

For builders, using one brand or few brands of appliances means contracted sales and volume discounts. Also, Energy Star appliance marketing is generally not aimed at builders. “Builders are cutting-edge on the energy efficiency of heating and cooling systems, but the consumer is ahead of the builder on appliances,” Collins says.

The Commerce Department estimates there will be 1.6 million home starts in 2002. If every buyer chose an Energy Star refrigerator and clothes washer, Sears estimates $150 annual savings per home in operating costs and $2.4 billion in U.S. energy savings during the 10- to 12-year life of the appliances.

Sears’ solution is its Appliance Select program, which lets builders offer a choice of appliance models ( including those that are Energy Star-rated) out of the top six brands, all at builder prices. Educating the industry on Energy Star appliances and helping builders use them as a marketing and point-of-differentiation opportunity are also key, Collins says.