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Low & zero carbon technologies in new homes: learning from the experiences of consumers and on-site sales teams (NF53)

Overview

Building on earlier research, this study by Reading University explores how occupants use the low carbon energy technologies incorporated in their homes. The work shows that occupants generally have a poor understanding of these technologies and, through poor or incorrect operation, may not be fully benefiting from them. It examines in particular the key role that sales staff could play in inspiring occupants in the effective use of these technologies. The report provides a detailed insight into the day-to-day marketing and use of homes with LZC technologies. It includes an improvement cycle, which can inform marketing strategy. The work has significance in the run up to 2016, helping to address a potentially crucial aspect of underperformance-in-use of low carbon homes.

Summary of content

1. Low- and zero-carbon (LZC) energy technologies are increasingly being adopted in the design of new homes. This trend will continue as Part L requirements are stepped up.

2. Many consumers (owners and occupiers) will not be accustomed to the use of these carbon-saving heat and power technologies, and there is evidence that they are often misunderstood and incorrectly used. There is a risk that this could lead to dissatisfaction with new low-carbon homes, because of higher than expected energy bills, and to carbon emissions targets not being met in practice.

3. The consumer interface with LZC technologies has been the subject of much debate and research, mainly because consumer satisfaction with homes can hinge on their experiences with these technologies. Two questions predominate:

  • can the consumer easily understand how to use the technology?
  • does consumer behaviour need to change to secure the benefits from the technology and can we expect that change to occur?

Much can and is being done to improve user understanding and the findings from this work support that positive direction. However, whenever the correct use of a technology requires a change of consumer behaviour, the situation is more complex. This research explores how occupiers’ behaviour can be affected by LZC technologies, and how they might be encouraged to willingly adapt to them.

4. Two sets of interview case studies were included in this work:

  • consumers and their reactions to LZC technologies
  • house builder sales teams selling enhanced homes with LZC technologies.

Observations from these were aligned with a continuous improvement cycle, which embraced key marketing considerations: Design & Production, Imagination, Purchase, Identification, Function and Feedback & Opinion.

5. With consumers some headline observations were:

  • households did not understand the underlying principles of the LZC technologies, but more than half felt comfortable operating them
  • more than half would recommend their technologies to friends, but consumers were largely unable to articulate the benefits clearly
  • none felt the written guidance on use of the technology was suitable and generally consumers felt that there was insufficient effort made to spark their imagination on the benefits and opportunities of having LZC technologies in their homes.

6. With sales staff the research identified:

  • that site staff and sales staff had taken time to communicate over the technologies installed
  • a varied level of understanding among sales staff of the specific LZC technologies being offered, and no clear feedback route from the consumer to inform the sales approach or the basic design of the home
  • a very limited ability or willingness to communicate the benefits and opportunities in a way that the consumer could understand or be inspired by

7. Recommendations from the report flow from each part of the improvement cycle, however a core suggestion is that house builders should consider how their sales teams appeal to the imagination of purchasers and inspire them to interact effectively with the technologies. House builders should also actively seek feedback on operation, particularly when consumers’ lifestyles are compromised in any way by LZC technologies.