Why Most People Are Wrong About Their Home’s Biggest Energy Hogs


Which devices and appliances consume the most energy in our homes? If you guessed lights and electronic devices such as TVs and computers, you’re not alone. Most people identify these as top household energy hogs, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. But we’re misperceiving our energy use, the study’s authors say, by assuming that the items we interact with the most will consume the most energy. Meanwhile, we underestimate the true household energy gluttons: furnaces, water heaters and air conditioners.

Individuals incorrectly attribute the bulk of their energy use to electronics and lighting for much the same reason an individual might fear extremely rare shark attacks after watching the movie Jaws: a concept called “cognitive accessibility.” We think that the objects we use most — lights we’re constantly turning on and off, or computers we’re always working on — are sucking the most energy. Meanwhile, as the expression “out of sight, out of mind” predicts, we forget about the appliances we have running in the background.

Indeed, home heating is the single greatest consumer of energy within households, followed by water heating, air conditioning and then lighting, according to 2005 data.

So what do the findings of this study mean for the average household trying to save energy, reduce utility bills and help the environment? Should we stop being so vigilant about turning off lights and powering down computers when we’re not using them? Absolutely not; these habits are still essential ways to conserve energy. But this report reminds us that we also need to address our home’s hidden energy consumers: our furnaces, water heaters and air conditioners. For these to work efficiently, our home’s “building envelope” needs to be properly sealed. Visit Energy Upgrade California to learn more about saving energy at home and to get information on larger home retrofits, including home energy audits, rebates and other financial incentives.