Americans Aren't Putting Enough Energy into Efficiency Efforts

Americans Aren't Putting Enough Energy into Efficiency Efforts

Despite a national push for efficiency, Americans aren't doing enough to stop their homes from being energy hogs, according to research from Shelton Group.

"People have to do more -- at least four energy efficiency improvements -- to make a real impact on their utility bills," said Shelton Group President Suzanne Shelton in a statement. "Unfortunately, Americans aren't reaching that magic number, even though the government and utilities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get them to act."

That's a key finding of the advertising and consultancy firm's seventh annual Energy Pulse survey, a national poll of attitudes and habits on energy use and efforts to curb it.

Survey results made available to GreenBiz yesterday showed that "self-reported energy conserving behaviors and home improvement activities dropped significantly from last year" and now are more in line with percentages from 2008 and 2009.

Researchers looked at more than a dozen improvements and behavior changes from simply turning off lights and using less energy during peak periods to having a home energy audit. Activity fell in each category this year with respondents doing a mere 2.6 things on average to reduce energy consumption -- which was not enough to lower electricity bills.

Oddly, the drop in energy-saving improvements and activity occurred even though Americans seem to be somewhat more aware that their homes need work and that their energy costs are increasing. This year, 23 percent said their homes were inefficient compared to 14 percent in 2010.

The Energy Pulse report offered these explanations for the gap between perception and behavior:

• Denial. "Most Americans continue to live in denial about their energy consumption," the report said. Despite doing less to save energy, 71 percent of respondents said they believe they are using the same amount or less energy than they did five years ago. Twenty-six percent said they were using more, and 3 percent said they didn't know.

• A high-tolerance for bill increases. Fifty-eight percent said their utility bill would have to increase by more than $75 a month before they'd consider spending money on energy improvements. On average, respondents said it would take an increase of $112 to spur them to action.

• Costs. "The people who most need to make energy efficient improvements are the least able to make them," according to Shelton. "Ultimately," her company's report said, "those who can better afford to spend money on home improvements were more sensitive to bill increases" and were more likely to make changes that would reduce costs.

• Misplaced priorities. "Consumers continue to prioritize the wrong things," the report said. Shelton pointed to energy audits as an example in her statement. "Home energy audits continue to be the colonoscopy of energy efficiency," Shelton said. "Everyone should get one, but too few actually go through with it."  This year, 15 percent said they had an energy audit done on their home, compared to 20 percent last year. Only a third said they think an audit is necessary and of those people, just 45 percent said they might have one done.

Shelton suggests that government revamp its energy efficiency funding and education programs: "The federal government should take the hundreds of millions of dollars that's currently fragmented into best-practices tests, block grants and pilot programs all over the country and pool the money into one big pot. Then design a big national education effort to encourage Americans to take the most important four or five steps necessary to see a real reduction in their utility bills."

Shelton and others at her firm plan to blog on the report and further findings at http://sheltongrp.com/blogs.

Photos of home with electrical cord and electricity meter via Shutterstock.com.