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Feb 22, 2016

Truly Reality TV: Finding the Right Time and Place for Home Energy Performance


The episode of Property Brothers: Buying + Selling, airing today on W Network in Canada, offers another example of Drew and Jonathan helping homeowners take the next step up the property ladder. Jonathan renovates the family’s home for a successful sale, while Drew hunts down the best options for the family’s next property and oversees the selling and buying.

What is special about this episode is the role that Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) played in working with the producers, and what we learned from this experience.

RMI is excited to collaborate with the producers to integrate home energy upgrades into the popular series. Have previous shows such as Living with Ed and Our Green House tackled the topic? Sure. But they targeted a niche “eco-choir” audience and put the “green” piece first. Instead, Property Brothers: Buying + Selling is leading with the real estate advice, and inserting home energy upgrades into the show’s storylines. 

On this episode of Property Brothers: Buying + Selling, the homeowners want to renovate their current home to increase its value, sell it, and move to a different suburban home with a school district that better meets the family’s needs. It is within this broader narrative that we learn how energy performance improvements deliver. Proper installation means lower utility bills, greater comfort, and higher home resale value. Part of Jonathan and Drew’s plan to bolster the home’s resale value is to modernize the sunroom with energy-efficient windows, insulation, and light-colored paint to maximize daylight. 

Home energy performance has a time and a place on television programming

People watch shows like Property Brothers: Buying + Selling for good a reason: it’s fun to watch and a source of inspiration for home improvement ideas. Home energy performance improvements are the top unmet demand in the U.S. residential market. By flipping the script—leading with exciting real estate stories first and including relevant energy performance insights second—viewers are entertained while also seeing the benefits of including an energy upgrade in their next planned home improvement project. 

Similarly, home energy performance has a time and a place in our everyday lives

Although those like RMI who promote clean energy market developments would be thrilled to see energy performance front and center across programming, you’re busy (and so are we!). Few people want to become energy geek experts. Instead, most of us care more about comfortable indoor spaces, hot showers, and charged devices. But there are times when it makes sense to add home energy performance to the to-do list. 

There are various “triggers” arising over the course of owning a home where energy performance can—and from economic and environmental perspectives should—become a priority, including situations like planned whole-home renovations, major heating and cooling system replacements, mortgage refinancing, and roof, window, and siding replacements due to disrepair or weather-related damage. 

These situations—which resemble what you might watch on an episode of Property Brothers: Buying + Selling as well as other popular shows like Fixer Upper and Love It or List It—present a major opportunity for homeowners to make energy performance improvements, particularly when buying or selling a home, because the energy component introduces only an incremental addition to the cost and effort already being spent on the work underway. In other words, homeowners are more likely to pay an additional $1,000 to install blown-in insulation when they are already spending $10,000 on a new roof and new siding—especially when this pays back through utility cost savings, improved comfort and health, and higher resale value—than when they have no plans for major home improvements (in which case the decision is whether to spend something or nothing). 

Enabling a fundamental shift in U.S. consumer demand for home energy upgrades 

Within the realistic boundaries around how often and in what ways homeowners are willing to engage with their home’s respective energy performance, there exists a vast opportunity to make energy upgrades something that consumers demand and invest in. Although energy performance has a time and place in both television programming and in our daily lives, we must better leverage triggers for home energy upgrades as part of planned improvement projects and make the cost savings, greater comfort and health, added property value, and popular appeal of energy upgrades mainstream. 

To transform consumer demand for home energy upgrades, we must change the way we tell stories about the benefits and practicalities of making these upgrades happen—which is why RMI spoke with homeowners nationwide and produced a video about homeowners who made energy upgrade investments—and enable collaborations among industry leaders to develop consumer-centric solutions that homeowners find desirable. 

We also need to better popularize narratives about energy performance in order to inspire U.S. homeowners across the board to invest in home energy upgrades—particularly in response to triggers for such upgrades. To address this market need, RMI is collaborating with industry partners to co-create a national engagement campaign through our Residential Energy+ initiative as part of a portfolio of projects that aim to make home energy upgrades business as usual rather than unusual. By reaching homeowners with an increasing number of compelling examples and messaging about the importance of home energy upgrades through mainstream channels, we hope to be one of many partners working to create a “new normal” wherein better, higher performing homes are the expected and aspired-to standard.

So when you tune into Property Brothers: Buying + Selling, keep your eye out for important information about home energy upgrades that improve comfort and save money—and know that there is more to come! 

Laura Reiter is the Series Producer on Property Brothers: Buying + Selling, seasons 3 and 4. 

Photo courtesy of Jay Kim via Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

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