Tired of breaking the bank just to keep up with the Joneses? Forget fancy cars and other status symbols. How about a way to maintain a friendly neighborly competition that actually involves saving money instead of spending? Americans have a wealth of resources at their disposal to empower families to cut back on energy consumption and reduce their electricity bills, but we don't do a stellar job of taking advantage of that information. Recent research, however, has shown that homeowners are more likely to take efficiency measures with their electrical work when they can compare their own consumption to that of their neighbors.

Whose Bill is the Lowest?

The experiment took place last summer, when the Vermont utility company Green Mountain Power worked with Opower, a software company that specializes in behavioral economics. During very hot days when air conditioning use was expected to be high, the utility reached out to customers with tips on reducing the amount of energy they need to power their home electrical work.

Afterward, the utility gave a report which ranked households in the neighborhood based on how well they had done on cutting back. By the end of the summer, electricity consumption among Green Mountain customers had dropped by five percent during hot days. That's some serious savings!

Peer Pressure at its Best

That five percent resulted from simple behavioral changes like bumping the thermostat up a few degrees and using curtains to block out sunlight during the hottest part of the day – no major investments or new equipment needed, just a little peer pressure. This research should be useful in helping understand what motivates people to save energy in order to develop more effective outreach programs for utility companies around the country.

One of the big takeaways is that the utility didn't give its customers any kind of incentives or payments to change their behavior – just the money they saved through efficiency, and the bragging rights of being more conservation-minded than their neighbors.

"Some of the decisions we make are not entirely rational, and they are due to a lack of context," Kevin Hamilton, Opower's vice president of marketing, said to Utility Drive, "and by providing that context you can encourage individuals to adjust their usage in ways that can benefit both the customer and the utility as well."

Little Changes Mean Big Savings

People come up with all kinds of reasons not to implement efficiency measures: It costs too much in initial capital, they are too busy to think about it, or they simply don't think the savings are worthwhile. But the reality is that even making small behavioral changes can add up in the long run.

If you want to decrease the cost of your electrical work and impress your neighbors, have a qualified home services technician perform an energy audit on your house to identify the most cost-effective ways for you to cut back.

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