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Behavior-Based Energy Efficiency: Lessons Learned from the Oakland EcoBlock

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Over the past year, we have surveyed EcoBlock renters and homeowners to better understand how they decide on different energy-efficient home improvements and use energy-consuming equipment.

Here are a few key insights from our survey work:

Energy-Efficient Home Improvement Choices  

The choices that residents make between various home improvement options can strongly influence how much energy their homes use. Our first survey sought to investigate the key factors and considerations that influence such decisions. The survey was distributed between July and August of last year, and a total of 16 households responded.  

The survey findings suggest a clear gap between how residents perceive energy efficient home improvement options and the likelihood that they will install these improvements in their homes. While the general favorability of efficient home improvement options is high (76% favorable/very favorable on average across options), far fewer residents indicate that they are likely to purchase and/or install these improvements (47% likely/very likely on average across options). Residents cite cost and the lack of a need for replacement as the top factors preventing home improvements, see Figure 1.  

Bar graphs showing survey results for two questions, Reasons for home improvements and Factors preventing from making home improvements.
Figure 1: Reasons for home improvements (left) and prohibiting factors for home improvements (right). Credit: Berkeley Lab

Efficient lighting replacements are the measure that residents have the most direct experience with, view most favorably, and are most likely to install in the future. On the other hand, residents have the least experience with heat pump installations and consider these as among the most expensive and high-effort improvements, alongside replacing windows and adding insulation; however, insulation measures are perceived to have particularly high impacts on utility bills and comfort improvements relative to other measures. 

Energy Use Patterns and Related Factors 

The second survey, which focused on how EcoBlock residents use energy and adjust their behavior in response to different weather conditions, was conducted across three seasons–fall, winter, and summer–and generated a total of 38 responses.  

Key findings include: 

  • The COVID-19 pandemic impacted home occupancy patterns, with nearly 60% of residents at home for more than 10 hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. When at home, respondents adjust lighting in the mornings and evenings and open and close windows and blinds frequently throughout the day.  
  • Residents least frequently adjust thermostat settings, though nearly half express a willingness to adjust the thermostat in response to utility bill incentives for temporary energy use reductions.  
  • Eighty seven percent of residents pay utility bills, and bill savings are the second most common reason for taking adaptive actions after addressing discomfort.  
  • Satisfaction with lighting is much higher than for temperature–while 89% of residents are somewhat or very satisfied with lighting, just 39% indicate this for temperature. Perhaps relatedly, 69% of residents report recent upgrades to lighting–compared to 6% of heating equipment–in the last 5 years, and 63% of residents say their heating equipment has never been replaced or they don’t know if it has been replaced. 
  • In terms of appliance and electronics use, computers are far more frequently used than other devices, and computer use is more evenly distributed across time periods. Residents are also least likely to adjust computer use in response to utility incentives compared to less frequently used appliances like clothes washers and dryers. 
Bar graph showing when in the day each machine was typically used over the past few weeks by repsondents.
Figure 2: Typical time of day for appliance use. Credit: Berkeley Lab

Next Steps 

The survey results can inform how the EcoBlock research team engages with participating homeowners and renters about efficiency upgrades and how they are used. As an example, heat pumps are often included as a central component of home decarbonization plans; however, our results suggest residents need more information about their cost and benefits to facilitate adoption, and guidance on operation of the new equipment is essential to ensuring that it can address existing issues with temperature dissatisfaction. More broadly, we look forward to leveraging the surveys and lessons learned from the EcoBlock project to learn more about households at the city, regional, and national scales.  

We’d like to express our sincerest gratitude to those who participated in the surveys–thank you! 

Cover image credit: Anna Haefele

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