Government Offers Building-Buzzword Alternatives
Builders who specialize in net-zero, Passive House, and other high-performance houses may like nothing better than explaining the advantages of their approach, but lots of prospective customers apparently have no idea what they’re talking about.
“Sure, it’s second nature for builders, architects and remodelers to talk about advanced framing and net-zero homes as if those terms are equally familiar to their customers,” Sharon O’Malley wrote in a recent post at ConstructionDive.
“But like doctors talking about neuropathy (nerve disease) and TIAs (mini-strokes) with patients who don’t have a clue how to translate that medical jargon, contractors can equally confound their clients with the technical terms they use when they talk about green building features.”
In a poll of 2,009 people, O’Malley continued, just 14% knew what a “high-performance home” was.
Industry buzzwords are great when you’re chatting with a building colleague, consultant Mike Rogers wrote in a post, “but they generally do not lead to homeowner understanding or confidence, nor to signed contracts.”
That’s the problem. The government now hopes it has an answer.
Department of Energy’s ‘translator’
A year ago, the Department of Energy gathered an industry group active in the Zero Energy Ready Home and Building America programs to discuss the use of technical jargon. What they needed, the group decided, was a better way of explaining the benefits of sustainable, energy-efficient building to people who weren’t in the business.
After the meeting, the department began developing the “Building America Building Science Translator,” which it describes as a “glossary of ‘power words’ for use across the industry.” The translator is now available as a download from the DOE’s website.
“Many stakeholders are frustrated that the transaction process fails to recognize the value associated with lower cost of ownership, greater comfort, improved health, ensured combustion safety, and more durability,” the document’s introduction says. What the translator will do, it continues, is help builders emphasize the “improved consumer experience, rather than the engineering function.”
Language that is ‘consistent, effective and inclusive’
Let’s start with “high-performance” building, the phrase that baffles 86 out of 100 Americans. High-performance, the translator suggests, means energy efficiency plus quality installation plus performance.
Likewise, “high-efficiency” means a minimum of 15% above existing standards, code requirements, or business-as-usual practices. “Ultra-efficient” is defined as 50% above existing standards.
Don’t call it an “HVAC system.” Say “comfort system.”
“HVAC equipment” should be “comfort equipment.”
“HVAC ducts” might be better labeled “comfort delivery system [analogy: lungs of home].”
An “HVAC thermostat” should be called “comfort control.”
The translator goes on to list dozens of stock industry phrases plus alternatives that emphasize enhanced comfort, more efficient operation, or greater durability. So, for example, the building-science term might be “tight air-sealed home,” but consumers might have an easier time understanding “comprehensive draft protection” or “air-containment sealing” or “moisture-sealed construction.”
In addition to the translator, the DOE website also offers webinars on marketing high-performance homes.
Sam Rashkin, chief architect of DOE’s Building Technologies Office, told O’Malley that using understandable language is essential in building sales. Three other important skills, he added, are asking buyers the right questions, showing rather than telling customers about the benefits of green features, and making sure that sales reps have a good technical grounding in green building.