Why Energy-Efficient Home Improvements Haven’t Brought Your Energy Bill Down

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One-third of homeowners who have paid for energy-efficiency upgrades—switching to CFL lightbulbs, installing Energy Star appliances, etc.—say they haven’t seen the decrease in energy bills that they expected.

Why? Suzanne Shelton, whose advertising company, the Shelton Group, specializes in motivating consumers to buy green products and publishes a series of surveys about utility consumption, energy use, and eco habits, offers a few explanations in a Q&A with the Chicago Tribune.

For one thing, Americans have a tendency to overstate what energy-efficiency moves they’ve undertaken. The percentages of people who say they’ve become more energy-efficient and swapped old incandescent bulbs for CFLs and all just don’t match up with the sales figures. Also, while certain upgrades may reduce the amount of electricity used in some ways, what with the proliferation of cell phones, tablets, HDTVs, and other energy-sucking electronics, many consumers are using more electricity overall. What’s more, Shelton says, there’s a tendency among consumers to turn off their brains—and not turn off the energy and water sources—once they’ve paid for energy-efficient initiatives:

People think that because they’ve installed CFLs, they can leave the lights on all the time. If they’ve bought [an energy-efficient] water heater, they can take long showers.

Shelton says that consumer attitudes regarding energy conservation are all over the map, but categorizes the largest group as “skeptics.” These are folks who aren’t convinced global warming is real, or who don’t care all that much if it is. (A Shelton Group blog post sums up this sentiment with the title “Global warming or climate change: Whatever, dude.”)

This isn’t to say that skeptics are against energy efficiency. They’re willing to make upgrades, but for purely financial reasons, according to Shelton:

They’ll do energy-efficient things, but for economic reasons. They think, “Why would you spend more money with the utility company than you have to?”