KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Despite government reports documenting that consumers now use more electricity than five years ago, 61 percent of consumers deny using more. So reports Shelton Group’s fourth annual Energy Pulse study, which also reflects widespread economic concern tied to energy use, with 62 percent of Americans indicating they have experienced home utility cost increases of 10-30 percent or more.

“For the first time in four years we increasingly see economic concerns driving consumer interest in conserving energy,” said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency that independently sponsors the study.

“However, one thing hasn’t changed since 2005: most Americans don’t view their own consumption behaviors or energy-use demand as having much to do with energy costs,” Shelton said. In fact, Energy Pulse 2008 finds that less than one-fourth of consumers mention U.S. consumer demand as most to blame for rising energy prices. Most consumers either blamed kids in the home for increased electricity usage or said they did not think they used more electricity because they now had no kids in the home.

When asked the primary reason to participate in energy conservation activities or purchases, the top three answers were the same as in 2007 but shifted in order, with saving money No. 1 - again, reflecting tougher economic times:

1.To save money (ranked No. 3 in 2007).

2.To protect our environment and save natural resources (remained No. 2 from 2007).

3.To preserve the quality of life for future generations (ranked No. 1 in 2007).

“Energy costs are forcing Americans to prioritize energy efficiency in their daily lives,” Shelton said. “For the first time since 2005, energy-efficient home improvements edged out aesthetic improvements as a priority.”

When asked, “Given an extra $10,000 in your construction budget for discretionary items, which of the following would you choose?”, the top three answers consisted of the following: replace windows (35.2 percent), replace HVAC system or furnace (26.7 percent), and refinish kitchen or bathroom (26.5 percent).

When Energy Pulse asked participants if they would choose one home over another based on energy efficiency, 81 percent said yes, up considerably from 69 percent in 2007.

Additionally, when participants were asked which, from a number of messages, would be the most persuasive to encourage home buyers to spend $4,000 more on energy-efficient or green features, the top three answers all related to saving money:

1.Energy-efficient homes have lower utility bills (25 percent).

2.An initial investment of $4,000 would, on average, be paid back within six years through reduced heating/cooling costs (19 percent).

3.Monthly utility savings would more than cover the difference in mortgage payment (14 percent).

However, most consumers have a high tolerance for bill increases. When asked how much their bill would have to go up in order to force them to undertake energy-efficient renovations, the average answer was $129 - a 62 percent increase over average reported winter heating bills and a 78 percent increase over average reported summer cooling bills. This answer indicates that many consumers would have to see a substantial increase before they would make changes.

In another sign that the current economic situation is first and foremost on Americans’ minds, responses changed in 2008 over previous years to the question, “Why don’t you do more to conserve energy?” Responses included:

1.In the current economy, I’m curtailing spending (61 percent).

2.Energy-efficient products cost more (57 percent).

The above two price-related reasons beat the former No. 1 answer for the past three years:

3.It’s hard to change habits (54 percent).

Publication date:11/10/2008