Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Home Energy Audits As a Grass-Roots Trend

One of the surprising trends of 2009 was consumers doing energy audits of their homes. Granted, it’s one of those things that a lot of people say they should do someday, but last year, millions of people took the initiative and found the time to actually do them — even though there was no big corporate marketing push to make them pay attention to the issue. Some people were pushed to do the home energy audits by the need to save money on their utility bills, which can be a considerable incentive. Others, though, were not entirely convinced that they would save money, but went ahead with it anyway.

The corporate world is playing catch-up in this area. Black & Decker is now selling a thermal detector with a laser pointer built in, and Scientific American, not wanting to be left out, is writing about this kind of thing in its Solar at Home blog.

The implications of home energy audits for the larger economy are considerable. With 50 to 100 hours of careful observation and remediation (using mostly inexpensive materials), a homeowner can typically cut home energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent. That is a big enough change, if a lot of people do it, to change the balance of the economy at large.

What is surprising is not the magnitude of the change — dozens of other changes that are just as important are happening all at once — but the fact that it’s happening at the grass roots level, with no central planning, no television advertising, and very little profit to be had for the corporate sector. The planning system is, perhaps, loosening its grip on the economy.