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Demand-side management (Electric utilities), Climatic changes, City planning -- Environmental aspects


Our study focused on the perspective of homeowner decision-making in response to home energy audits, combined with attention to the quality of the recommendations that homeowners receive, as well as the perspectives of some key industry actors on auditing and home energy labels. Unlike a program evaluation, the research was not designed to answer detailed questions about program effectiveness in terms of costs, savings, or process, nor was it designed to provide direct answers to questions of how to get people to do more audits or more retrofits. Rather it “steps back” toward a better understanding of more basic questions about what audits provide and what homeowners seem to want, for the case of one particular program that we expect has parallels to many others.

In this report, we present the results of a study for the U.S. Department of Energy, applied to an existing home energy audit program and pilot offered by Seattle City Light, the electric utility for the City of Seattle. Portland State University, Research Into Action, and Earth Advantage Institute worked together with Seattle City Light and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to complete the research project. From mid-2010 to late 2011, approximately 1,350 home energy audits were completed in Seattle as part of Seattle City Light’s program. These audits, and the homeowners who received them, are the subject of our report.

The research reported here was designed to advance the field’s knowledge on what homeowners want and get from home energy audits. It did so by simultaneously studying multiple dimensions of these audits, including: physical characteristics of the houses audited, the energy use estimates and upgrade recommendations these audits offered to homeowners, actual energy use data, self-reported retrofit activity and energy use behaviors, physical assessment of the quality of the retrofits undertaken, viewpoints of both auditors and realtors on various key program elements, and—centrally in tying these streams together—homeowner motivations and reactions to the audits, what they consequently changed, and what they thought about the results. These data were used to address gaps in knowledge about home energy efficiency upgrades and audits, including:

  • Homeowner decision-making processes in planning and undertaking energy retrofits, reactions to home energy performance scores, and satisfaction with the audits performed;
  • Differences and similarities between home energy assessment and retrofit recommendation tools;
  • Importance of household energy behaviors relative to house-and equipment-based assessments of home energy performance and upgrade recommendations; and
  • Industry views on the current and potential future use, and usefulness, of home energy performance ratings in general

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