Two homes constructed the same year, sitting on the same city block, with similar households, can have vastly different energy costs. The furnace can be the same and the water heaters carbon copies, but one household can effectively control their homes energy costs and the other household produces an energy bill, shamefully, out of control.
This is about insulation levels and how well the ducts are sealed, but it is even more about household behavior, energy education, and putting your best, energy-saving, foot forward. This is about parents passing down environmental concerns and expectations to their children and then to grandchildren. It’s about people that lived through the great depression and know the benefit of reducing waste and living with less because that was the only choice.
One thing I’ve wondered, is it easier for a rural farmer, who picks tomatoes and corn out of his own garden, to be energy wise and interested in controlling energy consumption, or is it easier for the Central Park native that buys food from an asphalt fruit stand to understand the importance of conservation? Do you need to know how many tits a cow has before you can be frugal with a gallon of milk?
Which household is more apt to have had the benefit of ongoing parental household energy education? Is it the farmer, as a result of being close to nature and the environment, likely to be the energy saver and need less energy education? On the other hand, perhaps the person that lives in the high rise is more aware of energy consumption and the amount of power it takes to keep a big city running.
Energy educators and power companies have a big job as they work to provide energy education to all kinds of households. Since every household has the potential for both saving energy and reducing energy waste, the energy education challenge is to design a program that can be successful for all households. The gentleman farmer that lives by the creek in the green valley can benefit from energy education and the bank teller in the duplex by central park can also.
If people are aware of energy-saving tools and behaviors, they can, within limits, control their energy consumption and curb energy waste. Consumer education then becomes one of the most cost-effective conservation measures available. Educators work to bring consumer education to the people in four essential areas. The subjects remain pretty much the same, but the approach may vary according to house location, income status, and resident expectations.
Energy ED and Behavioral Decisions:
Behavioral decisions is the Energy Educators biggest challenge when providing household energy education. It is the biggest challenge – yet the area with the most potential. People are simply set-in-their-ways and making behavioral changes is a slow and difficult task. How do you get a person to take a shorter shower with a low-flow shower head when they are accustom to relaxing for hours under the hot flow of water with enough water pressure to make a noticeable divot in the skin? The person feels slighted and abused. After all, just how much energy does it take to run a darn shower for an extra twenty minutes anyway?
To change energy wasting behavior, educators try to make a direct connection between the shower they love and the power bill they hate. People learn from their own experiences and their own power bill. Ideal learning opportunities occur when residents make a decision, perform a task or behavior, and do it with their wallet in one hand and their power bill in the other. The educator is often more successful at getting the behavior changed if it is connected directly to the power bill.
Therefore, to change energy behavior, the household needs to have power bill education and a complete understanding of the information that is available on almost all monthly statements. To connect real dollars and cents to behavior is the best way to change wasteful behavior.
Energy ED and Comfort Perceptions:
Whenever my daughter complains about a simple hardship, like having to walk home from school in 50 degree weather, I mention her ancestors and the Oregon Trail. If walking home in mild weather was a true hardship, we would still be living in Europe somewhere with everybody else.
A lot of people would like to throw the energy educator out the door the minute they mention 68 degrees and thermostat in the same sentence. Are we all getting ridiculously soft or are the comfort levels we have come to expect simply a dividend of having someone else live in a covered wagon for 4 months.
The energy educator needs to take a two fold approach here. One is to re-train the household into realizing that some comfort expectations are not really needed comforts and the second is to point out that the lack of comfort can have more to do with the lack of air sealing then the setting on the thermostat.
Once the household blames comfort problems on the lack of insulation and the holes in the heating ducts instead of the size of the furnace and the out-of-adjustment thermostat, the household can get back to saving energy in comfort.