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How does user behavior make a difference in my home’s efficiency?

Provided by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC)

When trying to save energy, many people focus on the building envelope – the amount of insulation in the roof, the R-value of the walls, the efficiency of the windows. Others think first of appliances – is the refrigerator ENERGY STAR? What is the efficiency of the boiler and the hot water heater? Are the lights LEDs or CFLs?

Certainly all of these things have a role in making buildings energy efficient. However, there is an even more important factor that is often overlooked–the behavior of occupants. There’s a common saying in the building industry: There is no such thing as a zero-energy home, just zero-energy homeowners. Even efficient buildings can’t reach their full potential if residents have energy-intensive habits. On the other hand, inefficient buildings can see large performance improvements just by changes in residents’ habits.

There are two parts to energy efficient behavior: the types of appliances you buy and the way you use them. For example, do you own a large-screen plasma TV or a modest one? For example, if you buy a 15-watt CFL floodlight and keep it on all the time, you may still actually use less than a 75-watt lamp that you turn off when not in use.

When it comes to your habits, remember what your parents used to say: Turn off the lights when you leave a room; don’t leave the faucet running when you brush your teeth; take shorter showers; and put on a sweater instead of cranking up the thermostat.

As breaking habits can be hard, there are also ways to address user behavior with technology:

· If you constantly forget to turn out the lights, or find yourself leaving on an outdoor light for hours while waiting for a spouse to come home at night, consider installing lighting controls. Motion sensors that can turn on and off lights are available for as little as $30 at home improvement stores.

· Programmable thermostats can be used to turn down the set temperature automatically while you’re at work or asleep. They can be programmed in 5 minutes and offer savings on heating bills throughout the winter with no extra work.

· Do you have a number of devices plugged into the wall (phone chargers, TV, computer)? These devices draw a small baseline amount of current, called a phantom electrical load, as long as they are plugged in – even when turned off. Remembering to unplug everything can be difficult, but there are solutions. Plugging everything into a power strip means you only need to turn off one switch. Also, a smart power strip will shut off the current to peripheral devices such as a monitor and speakers when a central device, like a computer, is turned off.

· Do you have an electronic calendar on your phone or attached to your email? Use it to add automatic reminders for maintenance tasks, such as the yearly check-up on your heating appliance, or changing filters on a forced air distribution system. Remembering basic maintenance tasks improves the efficiency of equipment and prevents breakdowns.

· If you need to replace an appliance anyway, consider purchasing an Energy Star-rated one.

How else can you make your home more energy efficient? Visit or Golden Valley Electric Association ( for more ideas.

Other Resources on Saving Energy:

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center is an industry-based nonprofit based in Fairbanks, Alaska that develops and tests energy efficient building technologies for the north. The articles and videos included in this guide are part of its mission to promote healthy, sustainable, affordable housing in Alaska and beyond. Find more at

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