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issue: July 2007 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Line
Bringing the Concept Home

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Tim Somheil, Editor

Educating and exciting consumers about environmentally friendly technologies is important to creating market demand.

Tim Somheil, Editor

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development unveiled America’s first PATH Concept Home in Omaha, NE, last month. The structure has more than 60 efficient, sustainable, and flexible products and systems. It’s an affordable home, according to the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH), the public-private partnership between the government and American housing industry entities, intended to advance technology use in the U.S. housing infrastructure.

It’s one of many new Concept Homes in recent years, most showcasing new technologies or building principles and quite often with a focus on environmental friendliness. Appliances figure heavily in the PATH Top 10 technologies for making homes more durable and resource-efficient. Among them is solar water heating, as well as combined heat and power (CHP) systems that use a fuel such as natural gas to produce home heating, water heating, and electricity simultaneously. Other top technologies include horizontal-axis combination washer/dryer and induction cooking.

I’m not sure an average buyer would see all of PATH’s top technologies as affordable. Even specified in new construction, a solar water heater costs more to install than a traditional tank water heater. Cost savings come over the long-term. CHP also offers the promise of reduced life cycle costs—but first you have to get past high installation costs, regulatory red tape, and charges levied by the inconvenienced utility companies. Still, efforts like PATH help create market-driven environmentalism. Creating demand is what it’s all about—lower costs and market adoption follow.

On June 10, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) approved the creation of a national U.S. green building program to provide a template for voluntary, market-driven green building all over the country. The new program will be based on the National Green Building Standard, which will be released in early 2008.

“With a national program, home buyers can be assured that their home is truly green, whether they live in Seattle or Savannah, in a condo or a ranch house, and whether they’re renovating or buying new,” said NAHB President Brian Catalde, a home builder from El Segundo, CA.

The U.S. Energy Star program proved the benefits of giving consumers an easy way to identify products that exceed environmental standards. An Energy Star logo has become one of the prime criteria for many customers when buying major appliances; it’s easy to foresee a time when homebuyers will refuse to consider a new home that lacks the green tag. Such homes would naturally need appliances that are a step above the basic, builder-grade appliances common today.

BASF’s Near-Zero Energy Home in Paterson, NJ, demonstrates just how efficient a home can be. The home’s media exposure has been significant, including a report in Business Week and a guest appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The BASF home takes a holistic approach to energy efficiency, and energy performance comes from three major systems: the building envelope, solar power, and mechanical HVAC. Like the PATH home, it makes use of solar water heating and CHP, but adds photovoltaic solar panels for generating electricity from the sun.

NAHB surveys show the pace of green home building increasing. A survey last month showed 97,000 homes have been built and certified by voluntary, builder-supported green building programs around the country since the mid-1990s, up from 61,000 in 2004.

“This astounding number is yet another indication that market-driven programs, not mandates, are the best way to encourage the growth of green building,” said Catalde. Compared to the total of a million-plus new homes per year in the U.S., I’m not sure the number qualifies as “astounding.” But it is significant.

As environmental awareness grows, so will public appreciation of all that can be done at home to address environmental issues. This may drive sales of more efficient appliances to builders—maybe even break open builder markets for technologies like CHP and solar water heating.

The appliance industry has done a tremendous job on efficiency for decades, decreasing energy use even as it kept appliance retail prices under control. The key to making environmentally friendly appliances successful—like all products—is to give the market what it wants at a reasonable price.


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