In the first of the studies an on-line questionnaire was hosted on Money Supermarket's website to learn more about the factors influencing people's choice of home – particularly how far they would take sustainability factors into account.
Most respondents had a good understanding of what a sustainable home is – i.e. a home with low running costs and with low impact on the environment. Almost all (96%) said that they had made some changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle, and 62% saw climate change as an issue that they should be concerned about.
More than two-thirds of respondents reported that if they were buying or renting a property in the future, it would be very important or quite important for the property to have sustainable features, such as high levels of insulation, triple glazing, solar panels etc. Asked if they would prefer to buy or rent a home that had a sustainability stamp of approval, more than half (54%) said that they would and 43% said they would always prefer to buy or rent such a home.
Some, around 1 in 5, were even prepared to pay a higher price for a property with a sustainability stamp of approval – provided they could be reliably assured that this would result in seriously reduced environmental impacts and running costs.
The second of the research projects focussed on the experiences of people already living in sustainable homes. These houses, located in England's North East and Midlands regions, had been built to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3 and 4. The level 4 homes also met the low energy design levels for Passivhaus.
All of the participants reported that they liked their homes - 'I wouldn't ever want to move' - and that their family and friends would love to live in a similar property as they were envious of the low bills and the comfort. The vast majority said that their energy bills had reduced enormously since they had moved into these homes. Resident's reported being surprised when they had so much credit with the energy company after the first quarter in the home – "Amazing- I was £150 in credit, also in credit with the water bill. My direct debit was £27 per quarter and now it is £20".
The participants were generally much happier with how warm the new homes were. Many had lived in very cold homes before and had been in fuel poverty, but could now heat their homes and afford their bills. A number said that high levels of insulation contributing to this also appeared to have the knock on benefit of reducing disturbance from outside noise.
Residents also liked other features such as water butts, sheds, composting, landscaping and clothes drying facilities associated with sustainable homes.
A third investigation involved consumer focus groups in Bristol – chosen because this is considered to be a typical UK location. Among the issues considered were their thoughts on a new quality mark.
Most group members reacted positively – “The more help the better,” and “When I'm looking it will give me some pointers” were typical responses – they wanted information that would empower them. They recognised that a quality mark could give them the reassurance that they are making better informed decisions. A home's running cost was highlighted as a factor that can influence choice, but consumers want factual information from an independent source that they can trust.
They admitted to having little trust in the information they have received during the home buying process. Banks, estate agents and even some solicitors rated poorly in this respect because they are seen as being driven by their own commercial agendas.
When the participants were asked about the factors that most influenced their choice of a new home they listed:
Build quality: how it looks and feels.
Amenities: schools, healthcare, public transport and open space
Noise: acoustics and impact of being semi-detached or detached
Storage and comfort
Space: dimensions both inside and outside
Resale value: especially important to those aged over 45