As we venture further into the era of climate change, humans are constantly searching for ways to decrease energy consumption and increase efficiency. Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet. Truly reducing our impact on the global climate requires a combination of an increase in renewable power generation, behavioral changes to decrease consumption and increasing the efficiency of our homes and appliances. Even as we strive for improvement, sometimes we fall short. According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, for example, a federal Weatherization Assistance Program is not bringing in the expected efficiency benefits.
Looking for the Win-Win
Investments in home efficiency are usually considered win-win scenarios. Reductions in energy consumption lessen the impact on the environment and reduce energy bills at the same time. Many upgrades, like replacing an outdated refrigerator with a new Energy Star-certified model, will eventually pay for themselves in energy savings.
However, not every savings promise comes through. The Berkeley study looked at 30,000 households in Michigan that upgraded their home systems with new insulation, weather stripping, HVAC equipment and more. The federal government paid up to $5,000 per house for the improvements, but the average household only realized $2,400 in savings during the lifespan of their new efficiency features. That's not a great return on investment.
The households saved 10 to 20 percent on their energy costs, on average, which is only about 40 percent of what they were projected to save. The results are discouraging for consumers who are striving to implement any cost-saving measures they can find. Electricians and home service technicians can help you upgrade your home systems, but the changes will only go so far.
There were other benefits to the weatherization program outside the raw financial data, of course. The investments were aimed at low income households, so the money saved helped reduce poverty in the area. Plus, the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere from the program has additional economic benefits. Nevertheless, the disappointing result could be a blow to the willingness of the government to make similar investments in the future.
Let the Buyer Beware
The big lesson for the consumer? Don't believe just any claim about energy efficiency, and do your due diligence before investing in a big-ticket upgrade. You can and should make efforts to reduce your energy consumption, but be careful not to blow your investment dollars on items that don't give you a good return.
"This underscores the value of field-testing," paper author Michael Greenstone said to Vox. "Particularly in a world where economy-wide carbon pricing does not look feasible, we should be redoubling our efforts to find those CO2 reduction measures that have the biggest bang for the buck."
If you need advice on how to get the best return when it comes to energy efficiency, find an experienced electrician who can help you invest your dollars wisely and steer you away from less effective purchases.