educate consumers: overview
Marketing and education initiatives help to achieve separate, but related, goals. The successful marketing of energy-efficient homes, and the benefits of energy efficiency, can increase the demand for and value of these homes and serve as an incentive for developers, homeowners, and property owners to take steps to improve home performance and, accordingly, reduce utility bills. The rate at which this "market saturation" takes place impacts how quickly states and localities can achieve energy efficiency and emissions reductions goals and improve environmental conditions.

Within both single-family homes and multifamily buildings, educational programs and tools help to raise awareness of energy use throughout the day and strategies to reduce energy consumption,
particularly at times when demand is highest. Educational efforts also help to ensure that owners of multifamily properties, building residents, and operations and maintenance staff are informed about how to operate and maintain their properties to maximize energy performance and long-term investments. As noted in an evaluation of public housing units that had received energy efficiency upgrades, over time energy savings persisted but were substantially compromised as a result of "improper operation of equipment and lack of maintenance." [1] With a better understanding and appreciation of the measures taken to make a home energy-efficient, homeowners, tenants, and property managers can help to maintain and build on those benefits.

Why do marketing and education matter?

Photo Courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, (c) 2001

Marketing and education strategies help to address common misperceptions about the costs and benefits of energy efficient homes. Oftentimes it is assumed that the price premium associated with energy-efficient homes -- in the form of higher monthly rents, home prices, or in the added costs of retrofits -- does not yield a quick-enough payback to make the benefits worth the upfront investment. This is a significant concern, especially for the low and moderate income households that are often least able to make upfront investments to improve home efficiency, yet have the most to gain from long-term energy cost savings. Part of this problem is rooted in the assumption that energy prices will remain relatively static over time. Though current energy prices are low, the energy price spike of 2006-2008 showed that we are vulnerable to fluctuation in energy prices, which are expected to rise over the long-term.

Homeowners and owners of multifamily properties may not fully understand the long-term savings that can be achieved through an upfront investment in energy efficiency, and often take a piecemeal, rather than whole-system, approach to improving the energy efficiency of their property. Marketing the value of these improvements -- from a financial, property appraisal, and utility cost reduction perspective -- would go far towards encouraging these owners to undertake improvements. Marketing efforts targeted to renters may increase demand for apartments with energy-efficient appliances and other energy-saving building features.

Education also matters to ensure that retrofits of existing homes or energy-efficient features in new homes perform at optimal levels and deliver the maximum return on the initial investment. For example, maintenance staff and building management or property owners that have not been properly trained to operate a new energy-efficient water heater or furnace can unintentionally erode the quality of its performance. Similarly, educational initiatives help to ensure that resident behavior is consistent with energy-saving goals. In a multifamily property with master metering, the benefits of a highly-efficient heating system can be undone by a tenant who leaves the windows open all winter; similarly, turning up the thermostat a few degrees in the summer can have a major impact on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. While these measures may seem like common sense steps, in some cases families may not realize the cumulative effect of their behavior.

Where does this apply?

Just as energy-efficient construction and building retrofit programs benefit homeowners, property managers, and tenants in all communities, marketing and education initiatives have a place as a logical extension of these programs. Large multifamily buildings represent a particularly promising venue for educational programs, as they may already have in place the infrastructure to reach many families at once. Other marketing and education programs promote the energy efficiency of single-family homes and strive to build energy-saving attributes and activities into our everyday market values, expectations, and behavior.

Learn more about educating consumers about residential energy efficiency

Go back to learn about other policies that improve residential energy efficiency

[1] Energy Conservation in Multifamily Housing: Review and Recommendations for Retrofit Programs. [PDF] 1994. By John DeCicco et al.Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.