Posts from "July 2012"


Homes with pools use 49% more electricity per year, but it’s not just because of the pool

  • By Barry Fischer
  • July 26, 2012

This summer’s record-high temperatures have sent us all running for the pool.

As the nation’s 5.1 million in-ground residential swimming pools do their part in keeping us cool, we began to get curious about how much energy they use.

It’s been estimated that 9-14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity are consumed each year just to maintain these 5.1 million swimming pools. That’s more electricity than is used each year in 11 individual US states and Washington DC. It’s as if all the retail electricity consumption in New Hampshire could grind to a halt, and then be routed to power the nation’s swimming pools.

So we wondered: how much more energy does a home with a pool use each year, relative to a home without a pool?

To investigate, we examined energy consumption data from 2 million homes (all with gas space-heating) in a climate-moderate part of the Western US, representing a mix of pool homes and non-pool homes. We were able to identify homes with pools by cross-referencing anonymous, publicly available property records. Then we looked to see if any patterns emerged related to pool ownership and energy use.

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Why it’s important to understand the energy costs of your home (before you move in)

  • By Barry Fischer
  • July 19, 2012

When you bought your car, your car dealer told you what kind of gas mileage you would get (e.g. 30 miles per gallon).

But when you moved into your home or apartment, did you know how energy-efficient it would be? Probably not.

In a report released on Wednesday, however, the California Clean Energy Fund recommends that home-sellers be required to disclose a home’s energy efficiency, costs, and consumption to prospective buyers.

A select number of municipalities already have home energy-performance disclosure requirements. For example, sellers of single-family homes in Montgomery County, Maryland must disclose their prior 12 months of utility bills. And in recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of more comprehensive metrics to quantify a home’s energy efficiency, such as the Home Energy Score and Home Energy Rating System.

Why is transparency about a home’s energy efficiency, specifically at the time of its sale, so important?

The time of home sale represents a key “Trigger Moment” for energy efficiency improvements: home-sellers and home-owners are already making financial and property-related investments around the time of sale, and so can reasonably incorporate energy upgrades into those investments.  Both sellers and buyers, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, spend 2.5 times more money on renovations within two years of sale than at any other time in a home’s life cycle.

The report estimates that half of all single-family homes in the US turn over every 12.5 years, which means that utilizing the time-of-sale “Trigger Moment” could result in significant energy upgrades (e.g. heating/cooling, duct sealing, insulation, and air sealing) for 50% percent of the housing market by 2025.

For more insights about how home life-cycle events can lend themselves to cost-effective energy upgrades, check out the California Clean Energy Fund’s full report, “Pulling the Trigger: Increasing Home Energy Savings.”

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If you want to encourage energy efficiency, make it easy for people

  • By Barry Fischer
  • July 17, 2012

In a crisp New York Times piece last week, behavioral economist Richard Thaler reminds us that people are much more likely to be energy-efficient if you make it easy for them.

He points to a recent experiment in the UK that explored how to encourage homeowners to install insulation in their attics. 45% of a home’s heat loss in winter can stem from inadequate insulation, and an estimated 9 million homes in the UK (40% of homes) have attics that are not properly insulated.

To determine how they can best promote attic insulation, the UK Government partnered with a home improvement retailer to test the effectiveness of two types of consumer offers:

1) Some households were offered a discount (similar to a Groupon) on insulation services

2) A separate group of homeowners were told that, if they signed up to insulate their attic and paid a small extra fee, the insulation company would “make it easy” for them: the company would remove their stuff from the attic, install the insulation, help the homeowner discard/donate unwanted stuff, and then neatly put all the good stuff back in the attic.

Result: the households given the “make it easy” offer were by far the most likely to install attic insulation. Relieved of the hassle to clean their attic, these homes signed up for insulation at 3 times the typical rate.

It appears that the solution to some of our most difficult energy challenges may be…to make it easy.

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