12/06/11

Energy Pulse: Americans Must Make 4 Energy-Efficient Home Improvements to Lower Utility Bills

You need to make at least four energy efficiency home improvements to see a considerable drop in your utility bills, according to a Nov. 1, 2011 survey by Shelton Group. While four is the “magic number,” the survey results indicate that Americans might believe just a couple of home energy improvements will do the trick.

The national survey, Energy Pulse 2011, polled 1,502 homeowners and renters in the United States from Aug. 9-22, 2011 on their attitudes about energy-efficient products and services.

Most Americans Stop at 2 or 3 Home Improvements

The study found that Americans who completed an average of four energy-efficient improvements, such as adding insulation or installing tankless water heaters, noticed a decrease in their monthly utility bills. However, the average number of energy-efficient home improvements undertaken by the sample was 2.6 – not enough to affect utility bills.

The survey authors deduced that most Americans who invest in energy efficiency expect to make two or three small changes and see results on their utility bills – when they don’t, they lose motivation to make more energy-efficient improvements. Thus, the authors recommend a nationwide education effort on home energy improvements.

The Green in Consumers' Wallets Still Matters Most

Reconfirming results from Shelton Group’s previous studies, the Energy Pulse survey found that “to reduce my utility bill” is the No. 1 reason consumers make energy efficiency improvements. In addition:

  • Keeping in trend with 2010, about 60% of respondents said their utility bills have gone up over the past two years. However, 71% of respondents think they use the same or less energy now as compared to five years ago.
  • Consumers continue to have a high tolerance for bill increases. On average, utility bills would have to go up by $112 to push Americans to spend more on energy-efficient upgrades.
  • Most respondents from the random sample think their homes are energy-efficient. In fact, 49% of homeowners rated their homes as “efficient” and only 23% thought their homes were inefficient.
  • Only 15% of respondents have received a home energy audit and only 33% think they need one.  The authors surmise that home energy audits continue to be the “colonoscopy of energy efficiency.”
  • Low-income households are the least likely to make energy efficiency improvements, and 32% of low-income respondents said their homes are inefficient.

Recommendation: Nationwide Education on Energy Efficiency

The authors write that in order to increase Americans’ average number of energy-efficient home improvements to four, they must receive education on how to pay for and carry out such improvements – as well as what benefits to expect.

“Americans tend to have unrealistic expectations when it comes to utility bill savings from energy -efficient improvements,” Shelton Group President Suzanne Shelton told the Alliance. Shelton noted that homeowners are just scratching the surface of home  upgrades, as many start and end with changing their incandescent light bulbs to CFLs.

“The government and utilities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get Americans to act, but they aren’t reaching the magic number,” Shelton added.

The survey authors conclude that “the top energy saving driver for a majority of Americans continues to be about dollars and cents.” However, consumers’ lack of personal energy plans relates to the federal government’s lack of a comprehensive, federal energy policy. As a call to action, the report emphasizes the need for a national “vision around energy and energy efficiency.”

Additional Studies on Consumers’ Energy-Saving Propensity

  • A Consumer Federation of America study found that nearly 96% of respondents think improved appliance efficiency is important for lowering electric bills.
  • A University of Texas at Austin poll found that 80% of consumers are very/somewhat interested in reducing their own energy use, and 73% are concerned about the portion of their household budget spent on energy.