Americans are once again preferring aesthetic home improvements over money-saving ones according to the latest Energy Pulse survey by Shelton Group. A refinished kitchen or bathroom is higher on a homeowner’s wish list than energy-efficient windows or a high-efficiency furnace, the study finds. Consumers are reverting to their old priorities as the recession wanes, the researchers say, perhaps at the expense of the environment.

More visible, exciting home improvement projects are on consumer wish lists, saysSuzanne Shelton, whose firm conducted the study. “Anyone selling energy-efficient products must either focus heavily on the aesthetic or comfort aspects of their products or play up their environmental benefits in a big way.”

The survey polled 504 Americans by telephone in September and asked: "Assuming you were suddenly given $10,000 to make home improvements, which two of the following would you choose?" The top answers were:
  • Refinish the kitchen or bathroom (37%)
  • Replace carpet or add hardwood or tile (33%)
  • Replace windows (31%)
  • Replace HVAC/furnace (23%)
Last year`s top answers were:
  • Replace windows (35%)
  • Replace HVAC/furnace (27%)
  • Remodel kitchen or bathroom (26%)
  • Replace carpet or add hardwood or tile (25%)
The survey also uncovered:

  • Consumers are willing to watch their energy bills go up more than 70%, on average, before feeling forced to make energy-efficient home improvements. Respondents said their bills would need to go up an average of $129 a month to make them undertake renovations.

    Shelton described this phenomenon as the “Apathy Gap,” or the price people are willing to pay to do nothing. "Here consumers are willing to waste more than $1,500 a year, or more than $4 a day, before they take action. For that same amount, a homeowner could install insulation or purchase one or two new Energy Star appliances to start seeing immediate savings."

  • There is a lot of pent-up demand for solar power. The survey asked, "How likely would you be to buy a solar electricity system for your home, knowing that a mid-size system that would provide around 63% of the average household's electricity, costs $35,000-$40,000 that could be offset by a $2,000 federal tax incentive along with additional rebates in many states."

    Nearly 28% said they would be likely or very likely to buy such a system. Fewer than 1% reported they already had such a system.

    This indicates a great potential market for solar, Shelton said. "Consumers have been waiting for solar to become more accessible and more affordable. Now, with prices projected to fall even further, and with new federal tax incentive greater than they've ever been, solar power will be on the rise."

  • Consumers have good intentions, but not very good follow-through. Shelton surveys over the past five years, including this year, show consistently large discrepancies between intentions and actions. Around 20% or more consumers say they are planning to get an energy audit, yet the percentage of U.S. homeowners who've actually gotten one has languished in the 10-15% range.

    Shelton refers to home energy audits as the “colonoscopy” of energy efficiency. "Everyone knows they should get one, but too few actually do,” she says.

    Learn more about the Shelton Group annual surveys at

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