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Changing Habits vs. Changing Homes

Residential buildings are responsible for using roughly 20 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This presents a huge opportunity for home energy savings, and figuring out the best way to get homeowners to save energy is an important area of research.

A UK organization called BioRegional is looking at opportunities for home energy savings by monitoring the energy use in three homes. One home will be revamped with everything from insulation to solar panels to cut its energy use by 80 percent, another home will be upgraded with standard cost-effective retrofits, such as adding insulation and a boiler replacement, and the final home will not be changed. Meanwhile, the homeowners in all three homes will be coached on how to change their day-to-day behaviors to save energy.

Changing Habits vs. Changing Homes

While the results won’t be final until 2013, my money is on the second house. Both changing habits and changing homes play an important role in energy savings, and both have their limits, realistically and financially. Here are some ways that habitual changes can be paired with energy efficiency retrofits:

Lighting and Electronics

Installing energy efficient lighting and electronic power strips in your home is a great low-cost way to cut back your energy use, but to achieve the full savings potential of these appliances, it’s very import to change your habits as well. For example, if you plug all of your appliances into a power strip but then forget to switch the strip off when you’re not using your appliances, it’s not being used effectively. And of course, turning off a light when you’re not in the room may seem obvious, but some people still forget to flip the switch.

ENERGY STAR Appliances

Replacing outdated refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, etc. with ENERGY STAR models can significantly lower your utility bills, but there are also tricks to maximizing your energy savings. For example, keeping your refrigerator and freezer well stocked, waiting to run the dishwasher until it’s full and washing your clothes with cold water are all ways to use your appliances more efficiently. You should also consider what time you’re operating these appliances because you will pay more to use them when power is at peak demand. (See Federal and State rebates for energy efficiency upgrades)

Heating and Cooling

There are a lot of energy efficiency upgrades that target heating and cooling costs, from adding insulation to repairing and air sealing ductwork, and there are behavioral changes that can be made in combination with these energy efficiency retrofits. While you should be comfortable in your home without wearing a snowsuit, it makes sense to dress for the season you’re in. Also, you can turn down the heat when your family is out of the house. One technological change that can assist with this behavioral change is a programmable thermostat. This allows you to pre-program a comfortable heating and cooling schedule, and you can set your home to heat back up just before you get home from work.

Your home and habits

A great way to figure out which energy efficiency upgrades and behavioral changes would make sense in your home is to start with an energy audit (ProEnergyConsultants.com).  The consultant will test your home and give you a prioritized list of recommendations on how you can make your home more efficient, and the consultant will also tell you which upgrades will be most cost effective.  Don’t rely on a contracting company, such as an insulation or window company for your energy audit.  They are NOT impartial auditors and don’t have your best interests in mind.  They’re there to sell you their product.  Make sure it’s an unbiased, independent 3rd party auditing company like Pro Energy Consultants (888-811-7773).

Save Energy.  Save Money.  Save the Environment.

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