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What people will, might, and definitely won’t do for the environment

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By Terri Williams September 24th, 2019
4 min read
For business

There are many ways that homeowners can benefit the environment.

Most people want to do their part to help the environment – as long as they’re not inconvenienced too much. At least according to a new survey by Porch, a home improvement platform.

Some survey findings:

  • 76 percent of participants believe there’s been a rapid increase in the Earth’s average surface temperature due to greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels.
  • 82 percent of millennials believe in global warming.
  • 72 percent of Generation X have adopted that belief.
  • 63 percent of Baby Boomers agree.

But when it comes to taking steps to combat climate change, homeowners are pretty consistent regarding what they will or won’t do for the environment.

What homeowners currently do for the environment

“When it comes to what people are already doing to help the environment, we found respondents are making small but important changes like opting for LED lightbulbs (75%) and reusable products like water bottles (73%) and shopping bags (51%),” explains Hannah Smith, project manager for the Porch study.

Homeowners also stated that they use rechargeable batteries and recycle paper and plastic products.

This comes as no surprise to Matt Daigle, founder and CEO of Rise, an online sustainable home improvement site. According to Daigle, people will take steps to protect the environment when they can see an immediate result from their actions.

“They instantly feel good when they switch their light bulbs to LEDs, or install a dual-flush toilet as they can see those improvements instantly, plus get the added bonus of a lower electric or water bill the following month,” he says.  “It’s also easier to make decisions that are good for the environment when they are also good for your health.”

Daigle uses the example of low or zero-VOC paint.  “And when choosing furnishings, they also choose natural materials like cotton and wool because they’re not more expensive than the alternatives, and people will feel good about these purchases,” he says.

What homeowners would do, but currently don’t do

Next, we move to the “might” category – actions that homeowners currently haven’t taken, but said that they would do.

“We found respondents were willing to invest in greener energy options that may initially be a large upfront expense, but pay themselves off in the long run, like installing solar panels (72%) and buying an electric car (59%),” Smith says.

Other actions in this category include carpooling to work, attending local area cleanups on a regular basis, and starting a compost bin.

“We’ve found that people might also make home improvements that don’t require a lot of extra time or money, such as adding additional insulation to their attics, or replacing their windows with double or triple glazed ones,” Daigle says. “Not only do these improvements improve the comfort of your home, but also decrease your energy consumption and thus decrease your environmental footprint.”

Daigle also believes that people are willing to choose products such as FSC-certified hardwood. “This ensures that the wood comes from sustainably managed forests; they will also purchase products with GREENGUARD certification that ensures low chemical emissions.”

What homeowners would not do

However, there are some changes that the survey respondents considered a bridge too far. “More drastic lifestyle changes are where people draw the line and aren’t willing to make a change – namely with their diets,” Smith says. “For example, two in three respondents said they wouldn’t be willing to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, and even fewer (three in four) wouldn’t be willing to go vegan.” For context, vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish, or chicken. On the other hand, vegans avoid meat, fish, or chicken but also refrain from dairy, eggs, honey, and any materials or products derived from or tested on animals.

Smith believes that lifestyle habits are harder to break, and this is why survey respondents also said they would not use a shower timer, bring a reusable straw to restaurants, or walk or ride a bike to work.

Homeowners are also hesitant to make changes that require larger financial investments if they don’t understand the return on investment. “A heat pump may seem like a big upfront investment, but you can start saving around $1,000 a year on energy costs, meaning you could see a payback period as little as 5 years,” Daigle explains.

For homeowners planning to stay in their home for several years, a heat pump could be worth the upfront cost, especially when it also reduces the carbon footprint.

In response to homeowners in the survey who said they would but currently don’t have solar panels, Daigle says, “Although solar is awesome, installing solar panels is not where you should start.” There’s no point in installing solar if you don’t have a well-insulated building envelope, according to Daigle.

“Focus on the building envelope, get the energy audit so you know where to improve, and then insulate your home and invest in double or triple glazed windows.” Next, he recommends installing a heat pump and programmable thermostats. “Then start thinking about solar,” Daigle says.

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.