There is a hot and heavy dialogue taking place in an online group that I belong to, made up mostly of people who are in the business of auditing homes and then making homes more energy efficient, healthy, and comfortable. The main gist of the discussion is, Do we rely on the government to encourage people to make their homes more efficient, or is it up to the market? Does this sound familiar? Tune into any election debate in the country and you will hear some version of the same discussion/argument.
As in just about everything else in life, the answer is not either/or, but both/and. That is the conclusion of a study recently completed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), “Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements”. The government has already poured billions of dollars into improving building efficiency in this country. Since about 40% of the nation’s electricity is used in buildings, the down payment in energy efficiency will bring much more than it’s value in saved energy, lessened green house gas emissions, and energy security. But government money isn’t enough. The energy efficiency community is scratching its collective head trying to figure out how to motivate people to save energy at home. The conclusion of the LBNL report is that, while government tax incentives and rebates are important, it is up to local governments, retailers, and large and small home performance companies to sell energy efficiency. And every location and every homeowner is different, with different values and needs.
What works for you? 1) Increased comfort; 2) saved energy and money; 3) a saved planet; 4) less chance we’ll go to war again over oil resources; or 5) keeping up with the Jones? Yes, social scientists have discovered that one of the primary motivating factors in saving energy is peer pressure. Even a simple message on your utility bill comparing your energy use with the average energy use in your neighborhood has been effective in getting people to retrofit their homes or make simple adjustments in their lifestyles to save energy. You may or may not hear the word “audit” or “retrofit.” The social science data also suggests that audit makes us think about our taxes, and retrofit sounds like going backwards.
Does “increasing your home’s performance” motivate you to keep your thermostat at 780F on a hot day? Does “cut your energy bill by 30%” cause you to type “home performance contractor” into Google to find a local contractor? Does the possibility of seeing yourself as an energy hog get you moving to insulate your attic? Join the conversation by commenting on this blog entry.