UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 3 | Mar.
Study Reveals Canadians Willing to Pay More for 'Healthy'
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,"
"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
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
"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'
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
"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.