Yesterday, sustainability-centric ad agency Shelton Group released the whopping (450 pages!) results of its seventh annual Energy Pulse study. The findings are revealing — and slightly discouraging — particularly when it comes to the exact number of energy-saving improvements that the average homeowner needs to perform before he will start to see a drop in utility bills.


Turns out, that magic number is four.


Of the 1,502 Americans polled for the survey, those who had completed no less than four home improvements like adding insulation or installing a more efficient water heater reaped the financial benefits of lowered utility bills. Those who performed an average of 2.3 improvements actually saw their bills increase by as much as 10 to 30 percent. Ouch.


Explains Suzanne Shelton, president of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Shelton Group, in a press release that details some of the key findings:


People have to do more — at least four energy efficiency improvements — to make a real impact on their utility bills. Unfortunately, Americans aren't reaching that magic number, even though the government and utilities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get them to act.

According to the study, 42 percent of Americans have replaced their leaky old windows with high-efficiency models while 39 percent have gone about adding extra insulation to their homes. In terms of HVAC systems, 37 percent of those polled upgraded to more efficient ones. Additionally, 24 percent of respondents installed higher-efficiency water heaters in their homes. And then there’s the matter of home energy audits, a process that Shelton refers to as the “colonoscopy of energy efficiency.” A measly 15 percent of those polled claimed to have had one performed. "Everyone should get one, but too few actually go through with it,” says Shelton.

On the not-entirely-surprising front, the study reveals that the main motivator for embarking on energy-saving retrogrades is to “lower utility bills” (28 percent). "It's a green decision to save energy — but for consumers, it's the green in their wallets that matters most," says Shelton. The number of respondents who answered “because I was updating or remodeling anyway,” dropped from 21 percent to 9 percent compared to the 2010 Energy Pulse study.


Also not too surprising is the fact that those polled with higher incomes and fancier educations were more sensitive to spikes in utility costs and, in turn, more likely to take action to lower them because, unlike many lower-income Americans, they can afford to do so.


“The people who most need to make energy efficient improvements are the least able to make them," says Shelton. "It seems counter-intuitive that lower-income Americans would be willing to let their energy bills skyrocket before making energy-efficient improvements. But that is the sad reality. They can't afford to lower their utility bills."


For more on this year’s Energy Pulse findings, check out this Executive Summary (PDF) along with an insightful blog post titled “We’re doing it all wrong” from Shelton herself.


Have you found that taking on only two or three energy-saving home improvement projects resulted in an increase in utility bills like those polled in this survey? Or have you noticed significant changes with less than four?


Via [Shelton Group], [L.A. Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Bill-reducing home improvements: Four's the charm
New study reveals that homeowners who tackle fewer than 4 energy-saving upgrades confront increased utility bills, and only 15 percent have submitted to the 'co