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Behavioral energy efficiency: how you live affects how your home performs

Remember when Mom used to tell you to shut off the light when you left a room? Or when Dad told you to put on a sweater if you’re cold? It turns out they were ahead of their time! More and more home energy professionals recommend behavioral energy efficiency as an effective way to lower your home energy costs. Just like Mom and Dad. But what exactly are behavioral adjustments, and which ones are the most effective?

Pisgah Home, Highland Park Historic District

A “nudge” toward behavioral energy efficiency

In the past few years, we’ve heard a lot about behavioral “nudges.” These nudges are small changes in the way we work and live that have the power to help us make better decisions and improve our results. One of the most common examples is about saving money for retirement. It was presented in the book Nudge, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. The argument is that

many Americans are not saving enough for retirement… ‘in 2005 the personal savings rate for Americans was negative for the first time since 1932 and 1933 – the Great Depression years.’

To improve the savings rate, Thaler and Sunstein argue, we need to make a small change to the way retirement savings plans like 401(k)s and 403(b)s work. Their solution? Make retirement savings plans opt-out instead of opt-in. “Nudge” folks to save money by making the savings effortless and easy to manage, and we should all begin to save more for retirement. No more worrying about balancing our portfolios, asset allocations, rates of return, or any of the details that can overwhelm us and stop us from taking action.

Behavioral energy efficiency nudges work in the same way.

If you want to save money on your home energy expenses, the first thing you need to know is where, exactly, is your money going? The average American family spends more than $2,500 each year on home energy. But that doesn’t all go to the light bulbs burning in empty rooms, or the teenager standing in front of an open refrigerator.

Know yourself, know your home energy costs

A house sitting on a stack of money

Go green and save some green!

Home heating and cooling, along with domestic hot water (DHW), account for the lion’s share of your home energy bills. That means that controlling home energy costs begins with understanding those costs. Our Heating Energy Assessment Tool uses home performance data from your utility bill to show you your exact heating, cooling, and DHW costs down to the penny. Now that you know these costs, you can nudge yourself and your family in the right direction.

Maybe a programmable thermostat is right for you, or you’d like to try replacing your 3 most frequently used incandescent light bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs. Your utility company or state government might have weatherization incentives available, so that you can take advantage of professional air sealing and weather stripping work. A RESNET or BPI certified home performance contractor can work with you to complete a whole house energy audit and plan home improvement projects to maximize your savings and your comfort.

Because how you live affects how you use energy, it can be easy to start saving money today. There are tools, professionals, and incentive and rebate programs available to help you. And at the very least, we can remember Mom, and turn off the lights in an empty room.




What is Demand Response?

Demand response is a new way for utility companies and co-ops to deliver power to customers. It has the potential to significantly change the way customers and utilities work together. So what exactly is demand response? Pretty much what it sounds like!

Electricity meter with demand response caption

What you need to know about demand response

Demand response is a way for utility companies and co-ops to more efficiently deliver electricity to homeowners, based on how much electricity is in demand at any given time. Peak demand in the home is in the morning, when we’re all getting ready for work and school, and in the evening, when we all come home to fix dinner, do our household chores, watch TV, or have the neighbors over for a visit.

It’s common sense: when we’re at home we demand more electricity from our utility. When we’re not at home, that level of demand drops. We might only have the HVAC system on, and the usual appliances and electronics humming along in the background. Demand response helps utilities balance that peak demand in the morning and evening with the lower demand in the afternoon and late at night, when we’re out of the house or asleep.

How you can take advantage of demand response

A basic programmable thermostat from Honeywell

Demand response programs may be offered by your utility company or co-op. Check out those inserts in your next utility bill! You may be eligible for real savings every month, just by using your dishwasher and laundry machines in times of lower power demand. Your utility might also offer you “time-based rates,” which can be more or less expensive, per kilowatt-hour, based on the time of day and the demand on the utility’s power generation capabilities. Most time-based rates (they’re also called “peak pricing,” “variable pricing,” “real time pricing,” or similar names) follow the basic law of supply and demand. When demand is high, in the morning and evening, prices are a little bit higher. When demand is low, in the afternoons and late at night, prices will be a little bit lower.

Utilities offer demand based rates to encourage you to use your major appliances, like your dishwasher and laundry machines, at the low-demand times of the day. This can be a win-win situation. . Your utility wins, because they save wear and tear on their equipment. You win because you save money on your electricity costs by using your major appliances in those lower demand times of the day.

What’s next for demand response?

According to the Department of Energy,

The electric power industry considers demand response programs as an increasingly valuable resource option whose capabilities and potential impacts are expanded by grid modernization efforts. For example, sensors can perceive peak load problems and utilize automatic switching to divert or reduce power in strategic places, removing the chance of overload and the resulting power failure. Advanced metering infrastructure expands the range of time-based rate programs that can be offered to consumers and smart customer systems such as in-home displays or home-area-networks can make it easier for consumers to changes their behavior and reduce peak period consumption from information on their power consumption and costs.

Demand response programs are created and managed by utility companies and co-ops. But homeowners, renters, and landlords who choose to participate in utility programs will find real benefits, including saving money on their electricity bills every month.




Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning: HVAC

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are one of the best places to look for savings in your home. If your heater or air conditioner are more than 10 years old, if you think they’re running a lot, or if you can take advantage of a tax credit for energy efficient appliances, you should add HVAC system upgrades to your home improvement checklist.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, home HVAC systems account for nearly 48% of a home’s total energy consumption. There are several parts of the system you can improve, independently or together.

You may want to consider a programmable thermostat set to adjust your home’s temperature for the winter heating season and the summer cooling season, and to adjust based on time of day. Why pay to heat or cool an empty house? Programmable thermostats are easy to install and use, and will pay for themselves with the money you save on your heating and cooling bills.

One of the most cost-effective upgrades to an HVAC system is air sealing. If your home is drafty it’s a good candidate for air sealing. A trained and certified contractor can find the cracks and gaps where air is leaking in or out, and seal them with caulk and weatherstripping. This will make you and your family more comfortable, and reduce your heating and cooling energy costs.

heat_pump_prices_by_galinast_on_istockphoto

Are HVAC system upgrades the right choice for you? Get your home’s full heating energy assessment today: it’s fast and accurate and will give you actionable information to take the next step.

Want more ideas on how to save money on your home energy costs? Just sign up for our Home Energy Performance Newsletter. It’s full of the information and ideas you need to make your home less expensive to operate and more comfortable – and healthier – to live in.