Home Innovation Insights

Growing consumer interest for IAQ, but how does it compare to energy efficiency?

Which to Pick? Energy Efficiency vs. IAQ

April 2, 2020

I’ve seen the findings from research, and some anecdotal evidence as well, that suggests indoor air quality is quickly approaching the importance of energy efficiency as a decision factor in buying a green home. As this sentiment echoes throughout the green home community, Home Innovation Research Labs added a question to our 2020 Consumer Practices Survey to determine whether U.S. consumers, if given a choice, would choose improved IAQ over improved energy efficiency:

“Imagine that you're in the market to buy a new home and your builder is offering a free upgrade valued at $1,000 to either improve energy efficiency or improve indoor air quality. Which would you choose?”

Nearly 23,000 consumers answered this question, and here were the responses we got:

Upgrade that Improves  Number of
Percent of
Energy Efficiency 16,862 74%
Indoor Air Quality  5,954 26%

Nearly three-fourths of respondents chose the free upgrade that improves energy efficiency. This may seem surprising to some, as it seems to conflict what we’re all seeing and hearing a lot about throughout the industry – a greater emphasis placed on IAQ – but there are a few things to consider that are affecting this response. First, this question was posed to a nationally-representative sample of adult consumers, so the findings do not necessarily represent the beliefs and opinions of strictly buyers of new green homes, buyers of newly-constructed homes, or even homebuyers in general. However, in my experience preferences among homebuyers is not so different from those who do not intend to buy, particularly on topics that affect both groups equally. That tenet holds true in this case as both buyers and non-buyers breathe the air in their homes, and most pay for/share in the payment for the energy they use in their homes.

Another reason these findings are a little lopsided and heavily weighted toward energy efficiency is that the benefits of energy efficiency are still more tangible, measurable, and understandable for most consumers. With energy efficiency, improvements and outcome seem clear — 25% improvement in heating and cooling efficiency means you save 25% on heating and cooling your home, and it leads to a 25% reduction in your contribution in greenhouse gases in the heating and cooling your home. But many consumers still don’t have as clear a view of how IAQ improvements can lead to positive outcomes. For some, there is a lack of awareness that indoor air can have a negative impact on their health and comfort. Unlike the energy bill, which is a monthly reminder to save energy, those without recurring health conditions that are particularly sensitive to air quality do not have regular reminders of the importance of their indoor air quality on long-term health.

Prior to seeing the findings, my team and I suspected there would be certain demographic segments that would have greater interest in IAQ than others, but that turned out not to be a major differentiator. In our analysis, we looked at age of respondent, household size, and household income and we found no significant differences between these groups in their choice of Energy Efficiency over IAQ. I still believe, however, that further analysis, particularly by attitudinal, psychographic, or health profile, would reveal segments whose interest in IAQ exceeds energy efficiency.
The importance of and interest in home IAQ has grown in recent years as new homes are built more airtight than in the past. For example, complaints of “stale” or “muggy” air have arisen among homeowners where inadequate ventilation is installed. While whole-house ventilation is more common in new homes, these systems were still found in fewer than 20 percent of single-family homes built in 2018.

The importance of IAQ may continue to grow as a factor in consumer home-related decisions. The key to an uptick will probably be for advocates of practices and technologies that improve IAQ to identify ways to convey a much clearer link between improvements and specific outcomes—such as improved health and comfort.

If your company is having challenges in establishing the value of your home building products and services in the minds of its potential customers, contact us. Home Innovation Research Labs can help guide you through the process and lead you to greater success in the market.