As a licensed contractor, I have the opportunity to build houses for people who want straw bale construction. I also have the dubious task of trying to share with clients who do not know about straw bale construction and selling the concept of a straw bale house. The latter is very difficult and, in fact, a bit frustrating in my opinion. I have worked hard for many years to teach people about the merits of straw bale construction and yet find myself amazed at how many people have still never heard of the technique. These folks seem to struggle with the concept and nothing I say seems to help them relax into the idea. Here’s what I have learned (be forewarned, some of it is depressing):
1. People like the idea of saving money. This sounds like it would go hand in hand with straw bale construction because of the high energy savings, but here’s the twist: most people want to save money right away. Many clients I have built for or have tried to create a contract with want “everything” and they only want to pay a little for it. This is common knowledge amongst most builders.
With straw bale construction, your initial costs are higher but your long term costs are much lower. I have tried to show people that, and the response is very often…”Hmmm. I like the granite counters, the stainless steel appliances, the bamboo floors, the fine cabinetry, but I can’t afford all of it…How much would I save if we got rid of the bales?” It is true that they save a considerable amount of money and can then afford the items they want up front, but if they stayed with the bales, they could afford those items and more over time. Over time is where I lose people.
2. Many home buyers only plan to stay in the home for 5 years. With that as a backdrop, the idea of long term savings is lost on them. If they can’t recoup the cost of a bale wall and a solar system in 5 years, then it is money lost.
3. People want to see their money in a home. As mentioned in number 1 above, people like high ticket items to be visible to the World. Many (not all mind you) would rather spend money on fancy appliances than on bale walls even if it means they will pay for it for the next 5-30 years!
4. The beauty of bales sells. There is nothing as powerful as walking a client through a finished bale home. If you have clients who will allow you to bring visitors through their home, do so. If those clients are home and are happy with the job you did, even better. They are the best marketing tool you can find. When I take clients who don’t know what straw bale houses look like through a finished home, they very often spend the first 5 minutes trying to pick their jaw up off the ground! You can’t explain what it is like inside a bale home, you have to walk them through.
5. A plaster job can make or break a home. Don’t skimp on this detail. Believe me, it is the first thing that people see when they view your home.
6. Have accurate stats available on energy savings. Don’t say: “these homes are really great and can save you money.” Instead, tell prospective clients that the owners of the home they are currently standing in are saving $250 every month on their energy costs. Show them how the light fixtures you use save money. Show them how the bale walls play into the equation. Tell them about all the details they can’t see and how they work together. Here’s the trick…..Do this AFTER they have walked through the house with their jaw on the floor.
If you present all of that upfront, it will be lost on them. Once they see the home and fall in love with it, then tell them how they can save money and be green in the home. Then tell them how much it will cost. The cost of the home will not be as important once they know they can save it back while living in an amazing house.