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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 3 | Mar. 4, 2004

Study Reveals Canadians Willing to Pay More for 'Healthy' Houses

New opportunities for Canadian wood product companies

By Michelle Cook

Many Canadian homeowners are keenly interested in having "healthy" houses and they are willing to pay more for building materials to improve the indoor air quality, lighting and acoustics in their homes.

The findings, part of a nationwide survey conducted by graduate student Wellington Spetic, in UBC's Faculty of Forestry, suggest there is a significant niche market for value-added building products such as cabinetry, paneling, windows, doors, flooring and structural systems that many Canadian wood producers may be overlooking.

"The idea was to find out what, if any, impressions Canadian householders had regarding indoor environmental quality and their level of knowledge about healthy housing," says Spetic.

"What we found was that almost 60 per cent of the people interviewed were familiar with the term 'healthy housing' and there's a group of people who would at least be willing to look at builders who offered these features in a house."

Canadians spend up to 90 per cent of their time indoors and the majority of that time is spent at home.

Eight hundred homeowners across Canada participated in the study, the first of its kind to look at Canadians' attitudes about their home's 'health.'

They responded to questions about what they value and desire in the indoor environment of their homes, specifically the indoor air quality, lighting and acoustics, their level of knowledge about 'healthy' housing, and their willingness to pay for better indoor environmental quality.

Of those who participated, 56 per cent said they were familiar with the term 'healthy house' through sources such as broadcast and print media.

The 'healthy house' concept gained momentum after the energy crisis of the 1970s when the need to conserve energy led to the construction of 'tighter' houses. While these were more energy efficient, they produced increased amounts of moisture and mould in homes which, in recent years, have been linked to respiratory-related illnesses such as asthma.

A third of those surveyed think they can get allergies, asthma and skin irritations from materials in their homes -- carpets, paints, glues, off gassing from building materials and other toxic substances.

"We don't know if this is reflected in reality or not but, what's important is that this is what homeowners think," Spetic says.

Among the study's other findings were that 56 per cent of respondents would be prepared to pay up to nine per cent more for improved air quality; 44 per cent would be willing to pay up to eight per cent more for improved lighting; and 40 per cent would be willing to fork over up to seven per cent more for better acoustics in their homes.

The study also indicated that women are more knowledgeable than men on the topic of healthy housing, but are not necessarily willing to pay extra for it. Older homeowners appear to be less concerned with house-related environmental issues and are less willing to pay more for healthy house features.

While the survey didn't reveal any significant differences by region, what emerged from the data was a consumer profile of the homeowner who would be most likely to consider 'healthier' building materials.

They are those least satisfied with their indoor air quality and environmental quality, and who place a high importance on indoor air quality. They are most likely women, middle-aged or younger, and they have experienced health problems they thought were caused by something in their homes.

The results suggest that a significant proportion of the homeowner population could be reached with targeted promotion if a company were interested in manufacturing healthy houses and building materials says Rob Kozak, a professor in the Wood Science department and Spetic's advisor on the project.

"There seems to be a fairly evolved understanding of healthful living concepts and at the same time, a clear disconnect between producers and the marketplace. There may be an opportunity there that's being missed," Kozak says.

He adds that Canadian wood products companies should be looking at how they can venture into this niche market, because wood from sustainably managed forests is the most conducive material for constructing a healthy house.

Those who responded to the healthy home survey seem to agree. Spetic says many indicated they would prefer wood products, but they feel it is less available and more costly than other materials and they are concerned about sustainability issues.

It's an attitude that calls for more consumer education says Kozak, who is part of a team that will be conducting similar healthy home surveys with Japanese and European homeowners.

"Wood is the ecologically responsible material to be used in applications like houses," Kozak says. "It's renewable, it's recyclable and it's long-lasting when homes are properly designed."

In addition to this work, Kozak and his team are currently exploring the positive psychological impacts that wood has when used in interior applications.

The Healthy House Survey of Canadian Households was funded by Akira Yamaguchi, a Japanese philanthropist and owner of the KST-Hokkaido, a homebuilding company with a distinct philosophy of healthy housing and healthful living.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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