Building Tune-ups

Recent Brendle Group blogs about human-building interaction and technologies for enhancing this important relationship has me particularly focused on my own behavior in my own building (my home), especially as the summer temperatures rise and the hum of air conditioners becomes the predominant evening sound. This heightened focus also is the result of information I am receiving as an electric utility customer about my own patterns of consumption.

As part of Fort Collins Utilities’ Advanced Meter project here in Colorado, mechanical electric and water meters in homes, schools, and businesses are being upgraded to electronic devices capable of two-way digital communication. One of the many benefits of these electronic devices is a customer’s ability to view his or her own data. While my portal is not yet available, I am receiving quarterly home energy reports from the utility – fondly called “energy report cards” by me and my family. This report card shows energy consumption for my home, patterns of use, and how my use compares with my neighbors, both standard and high performing types. This residential reporting is much like commercial building energy benchmarking that allows building owners to track trends and compare their buildings with the performance of others in the same industries and regions.

Of course, I’ve always paid close attention to my electricity bills and looked for ways to conserve, but getting my first report card put my consumption in a whole new, and not so flattering, light.  Here comes the confession part…..the first report card I received indicated that my home was out-consuming my neighbors by 67%! The home was built within the last 7 years, has high efficiency equipment and appliances, and insulation R values higher than code. In fact, a blower door test conducted 2 years ago indicated an extremely tight envelope but an uncannily high electric base load as well. And while I was concerned back then about the base load and looked around for a few devices to unplug, it wasn’t until I got my first report card that I began in earnest to find ways to reduce electric use. Nothing like actual data, including the amount of money I could save if I performed more in line with my neighbors  ($800 annually to be exact),  and peer pressure to motivate real and meaningful change.

I have received three report cards altogether. Since the first showing that I used 67% more electricity than my neighbors, I have reduced my consumption by 24% over last year, and my most recent report indicates just 11% higher use than my neighbors. I still have plenty of work to do, but after the initial shock of the first report card, I am encouraged quarterly with the outcomes of my efforts. I look forward to my next report card and am committed to this virtual competition.

However, my mind wanders to persistence and what happens when I’ve done all the easier and less expensive things. What then? Well, that brings me back to technologies for enhancing human-building interaction that Seth Jansen introduced a few weeks back in this blog. Persistence is linked to habitual decision making, according to a report produced by Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc. (Overview of Residential Energy Feedback and Behavior-based Energy Efficiency, Feb 2011;, and if technologies such as sensors, smart thermostats, and automation systems reduce the barriers to habitually conservative behaviors, I can continue to look forward to my report card each quarter. Who knows – eventually my home may become one of the higher performers in my neighborhood.