I stumbled upon an article yesterday in New Scientist that describes how homes made to be more energy efficient are making homeowners complacent–it appears that many people are using just as much energy as they were before they made their homes more efficient. For example, some homeowners tend to crank the heat up more than they did pre-retrofit because they no longer have to worry about bills being as high as they would have been in the past. If a homeowner is used to paying $200 to keep their house at 65 degrees, they might not mind paying $200 to keep their home at 75 degrees where they can walk around in their favorite old Earth Day t-shirt and hemp boxers in the middle of January.
While the article focused on a survey done in the UK, there is no doubt that the same thing is happening in the US—I’ve seen it and felt it in the 78 degree basements of homeowners after they’ve had air sealing done and fancy new mechanicals put in. This kind of behavior could be a real barrier in achieving local and national climate action goals in the near future, and is the result of a lack of education, not some demonic plot by the 1960s ranch house down the street to destroy the earth. If the new army of emerging “green” experts only treat the symptom and not the cause, homeowners will not change their behavior because they likely don’t understand the importance of changing their habits. Habits are, without a doubt, the MOST important part of any environmental movement, despite what your Pella Windows rep will tell you. And it is education that is often lost in marketing materials and hasty audits.
And green education extends beyond just keeping your furnace at a lower temperature and turning off the lights—how about things like on-site water retention and native landscaping? Ever plant a native lawn for someone, only to return a year later to see that they’ve been mowing it like Kentucky Blue Grass? Yeah, that happens. And why wouldn’t it? Who in the last 50 years—at least in the Chicagoland area—has done anything but dump fertilizers and pesticides on their grass and mow the bejesus out of their tiny little plot of lush lawn? Beyond that, neighbors sometimes view urban-tolerant species and native landscaping’s more wild appearance as being the result of a lazy homeowner. As if they had a bunch of car carcasses rusting in their front yard that would drive down the value of everyone’s real estate on the block. Why not educate the homeowner so that they can, in turn, educate their neighbors? When people understand things, they can feel good about them and brag about them and motivate others to do the same.
Let’s all just slow down a half second and take the extra time to educate those who we are trying to help. Really, it is often only a matter of minutes in our day and the results will be so much better and more meaningful. Otherwise, we’re patting ourselves on the back a little too hard, dig?