Here is a great interview from HouseLogic. Â Enjoy!
Suzanne Shelton is president and CEO of Shelton Group, a marketing agency specializing in sustainability and energy efficiency. Shelton Groupâ€™s annual Energy Pulse research report â€” released last fall â€” tracks consumer attitudes toward energy-related topics.Â
HouseLogic: So our energy bills are going up?Â
Suzanne Shelton:Â Yes, for many of us, even though we may think our energy use is going down.Â
HL: How come?
SS:Â Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis where we have no idea how much we pay for it. It would be different if we had to feed dollars into a machine to make the power run in our homes.
The way we use energy now is the equivalent of walking into a convenience store every day and filling our pockets with candy and walking out. Then the bill comes at the end of the month and weâ€™re saying, "Thereâ€™s no way I ate that much candy!"Â
This is an inherent problem with the way we use energy, or it will be, at least, until we live like theÂ JetsonsÂ and have nifty energy dashboards in our homes.Â
HL: Why are we using more energy now â€” what are the main culprits?Â Â
SS:Â Several things. We simply have more stuff plugged in now than we did five or 10 years ago â€” Xboxes, electronics chargers, iPads â€” and some of those things are energy hogs.Â
For example,Â plasma TVs use as much energy as a refrigerator. Theyâ€™re getting more efficient now, but if you had the old square CRT and replaced it with a flat-screen plasma, youâ€™re instantly paying the utility much more than you did before.
People are buying an Energy Star refrigerator, but then putting the old one in the garage as a beer fridge. For example, a friend of mine was in the process of selling her house. She wasnâ€™t living there and she had the HVAC turned off, but she had an old refrigerator inside, plus a freezer plugged in on the back porch. Her utility bill came in at $50 a month and she was furious. â€œIâ€™m never there!â€ she said. â€œThe lights are off, the heatâ€™s off, how can this be right?â€Â
I said, â€œAre your appliances plugged in?â€ And so she unplugged the freezer and her refrigerator inside. It cut her bill in half.
HL: Do we also think that if weâ€™re saving energy in one way, we can use more of something else?
SS:Â Yes. People tell us in focus groups, "I bought these CFLs so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I bought a high-efficiency washer and dryer because I want to do more laundry without paying more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake."Â
Psychologists call it â€œmoral licensing,â€ but we at Shelton Group call it the â€œSnackwells Effect,â€ as in, theyâ€™re low-fat, so I can eat all of them.Â
HL: Whatâ€™s the reason for this disconnect?
SS:Â Most of us have no idea how our homes really work, so we donâ€™t know how to make the biggest impact. Thatâ€™s why consumers run out and replace their windows first, when that should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements to make, and they totally ignore effective activities like caulking and sealing that cost far less.Â Â
HL: Iâ€™m surprised people replace their windows first.Â
SS:Â The aesthetic draw of new windows is really strong; we love to be around pretty things. You can also talk yourself into it because you think itâ€™ll improve your resale value. But more than that, if you put your hand up to a window, even an energy-efficient window, you can feel that itâ€™s hot or cold, so people just assume thatâ€™s where the biggest problem is.Â
But for the average home owner, new windows arenâ€™t the best use of your home improvement dollar in terms of saving money on your energy bills. Everyoneâ€™s situation is different, but other projects usually cost far less and offer a faster return on your investment.Â
HL note:Â Consider this: If you spend $12,000 on windows and save 7% to 15% on your energy bill, according to Department of Energy data, when you could have spent around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing and saved 20% on your energy bill, you made the wrong choice if your only reason for undertaking the project was reducing energy costs.Â