Why Don't Homeowners Spend Money on Energy Saving Upgrades??? Blame "Cognitive Biases"

A great transcript from a recent NPR "Morning Edition" broadcast about a recent California survey on water conservation efforts. The results are exactly what we find with energy conservation... When homeowners were asked what actions will save water, most said "taking shorter showers" (turning down the heat), or "keeping water off while brushing" (wearing a sweater) which of course is a complete mismatch of real saving efforts, like installing low-flow toilets (installing insulation).- which cost the homeowner money...blame cognitive bias... 

Read the transcript or listen to the broadcast...

http://www.npr.org/2015/05/05/404352534/blame-cognitive-biases-when...

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Comment by Tom Conlon on June 4, 2015 at 11:15pm

I usually enjoy Shankar's segments, but this one struck me as just another example of the media needlessly juxtaposing Conservation vs. Efficiency. Sure, we humans have a bias to horde our cash, but those of us who know better should never frame this as "either/or". Instead, we ought to recommend both, particularly in times of crisis like we have now in California.

The last time we checked (2005-2010), 67% of our toilets here were already < 1.6 gpf. So of course, banning the sale at time of replacement of any model above 1.28 gpf will incrementally save some water (and the energy embedded therein). But at our house, like many in these parts, the main toilet has been dual flush for at least 3 or 4 years years now. We knew we could readily meet our fair share of the mandatory cut backs (at almost no capital cost, not to mention the embodied energy in the new porcelain) by just getting into the Navy Shower routine, keeping a bucket in kitchen sink, and flushing less ("I have to check the compost pile, honey").

In fact, we just got our bill and we're actually down 38% vs. April/May last year. All this from just these few modest changes in behavior and re-setting the drip clock, which was aided by the purchase of a $40 soil core probe that allows more careful monitoring of garden bed moisture. The garden is about 20% bigger this year too, and thriving.

So for us, a master bath update, graywater (at the washer and kitchen sink), two big rain water catchment tanks (connected to a modest bio-swale in the front yard orchard for groundwater recharge) have all made it on to the future home improvements list.

But these days, even in the toniest California zip codes, "yellow is mellow, baby".

Comment by Jose Macho on June 4, 2015 at 8:46pm

I think some of you have missed the point...What social science is saying is that people shrink from making efficiency solutions because they have to spend money, so they focus on curtailment solutions like lowering the thermostat so they are not spending money. In the long run it is costing them more, but again the "bias" is the attention spent on the one-time cost so many are likely to live with inadequate insulation and lower thermostat temp. The challenge continues to be incentivizing the homeowner to make that one-time purchase.

Comment by Jan Green on June 4, 2015 at 8:13pm

Listening to the "morning edition" and the results of the survey doesn't surprise me.  Encouraging someone to spend money to save money involves educating them.  It's a constant awareness campaign. 

Comment by Rob Buchanan on May 29, 2015 at 10:49am

I think this is an interesting comparison, but I would also want to know whether similar surveys have been done with respect to energy conservation. Do people give similar, low-impact and no-cost responses? That can give us a lot of insight into customer psychology and how to improve EE messaging.

Comment by Bob Blanchette on May 29, 2015 at 10:45am
The bigger problem is the way water is billed. Most of the charges are a fixed monthly amount that doesn't change with use. Use charges only account for a small portion of the bill.

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