Do home energy efficiency upgrades actually save you money?

The Choose Energy Team
By The Choose Energy Team October 14th, 2015
For business

This post is brought to you by our content partners at the Chicago Tribune.

In a sobering surprise for American homeowners, a recent study by economists at the University of Chicago concluded that some popular home efficiency measures, including furnace replacement, attic and wall insulation, and weather stripping, offer little in the way of long-term savings.

“We found that, at least in the case of residential energy efficiency investments, the projected savings overestimate the reality on the ground,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor of Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

University of Chicago researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial of more than 30,000 households in Michigan. One-quarter of homeowners were encouraged to make residential energy efficiency investments, with assistance from the university. The resulting study found that what it cost to make the upgrades was about double the energy savings over the lifetime of the upgrades.

In light of this challenge to conventional home energy wisdom, where can we turn to reduce our utility bills?

In a deregulated energy market such as Chicago, shopping around for an energy provider is one way to produce significant savings. Today, retail energy providers offer energy plans that can reduce a Chicago household’s energy bills by approximately $30 per year.

Comparing and changing energy providers has become quicker and more convenient with the advent of specialized, user-friendly online marketplaces such as ChooseEnergy.com.

Myriad simple, small steps, from a $25 water heater blanket to remembering to close the fireplace damper, can also reduce energy consumption.

“In apartments we start with a programmable or smart thermostat, not the furnace or building boiler,” suggests Felicite Moorman, CEO of Philadelphia-based energy management and control company Stratis. These thermostats cost as little as $25 and deliver the same energy savings as the $5,000 worth of home upgrades that study participants installed.

With LED light bulbs becoming more affordable, homeowners and renters alike can lower their electricity overhead without so much as calling a handyman.

“LED lighting upgrades pay for themselves quickly and, due to longer [bulb] life, tend to provide benefits that far exceed appliances and insulation upgrades,” said Joe Pater, director of utility solutions at New Jersey-based lighting company MaxLite. A 60-watt incandescent replaced with a 9-watt LED bulb, which costs around $20 to $25, will save the customer approximately $140 over the lifetime of the LED bulb, which is estimated at approximately 25,000 hours.

“Chicagoans have a real opportunity to save money and reduce carbon with minor additions and adjustments to their current systems,” Moorman said. “Remember to look for government, utility and nonprofit subsidies for energy efficiency upgrades. EnergyStar.gov is a great place to start. These subsidies can reduce the cost to nearly nothing, especially in more challenging climates.”

—Paul Rogers, Tribune Content Solutions

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