“I don’t know” or “probably not” are the most common responses I hear to the question, “is your home efficient?” As Chris Mooney recently wrote in the Washington Post, “few of us have a clue how much electricity we’re using in our homes.” Most of us don’t know if our energy use is high or low, and as a result, we have little motivation to invest in efficiency or to take actions that reduce energy consumption. I believe one way we can encourage action is to help people understand how their energy use compares to other homes through operational assessments like our OPEN (operational energy) rating system.
I’m interested in understanding how increased awareness of home efficiency affects behavior. I had a theory—based on research from MIT—that sharing an operational energy rating during a home energy assessment would influence a homeowner’s decision to invest in energy efficiency improvements. In order to test this theory, I conducted an online randomized control trial based on self-reported intention.
You can read the details of our research process and findings here. In summary, our experiment consisted of walking 385 participants (from 47 states) through a virtual home energy assessment where randomly selected respondents (48% of the total sample population) received an operational score of 64 out of 100 (where 100 is most efficient), as seen in the graphic below. The other participants (52% of population) did not receive a score and were not aware that other participants had received one. All 385 respondents were then asked the same set of questions about their willingness to invest in air sealing and insulation work, followed by questions about energy concern and demographics.
What did we find?
Although we could only measure intention and not action, these findings support the idea that sharing an operational rating with a homeowner—especially if they pay attention to their energy consumption to begin with—may encourage investment in energy efficiency. They also suggest that efficiency scores may not have the same meaning for all people. An above-average 64 may be seen as a positive by some, and a negative by others.
Additional findings of interest:
Our initial research results were promising, and we plan to continue our study by providing a randomized set of homeowners their actual operational score, based on their own energy use, during home energy assessments. We expect to find that homeowners receiving an unsatisfactory energy rating will be more likely to spend real money on efficiency improvements to their home, and that the determination of unsatisfactory is subjective.
You can read full details of the experiment here. Comments and questions welcome!