Assessing the Energy Efficiency Information Gap

Oct 11, 2011

Assessing the Energy Efficiency Information Gap:
Results from a Survey of Home Energy Auditors
RFF Feature
OMan Weatherizes Homectober 11, 2011

Many energy experts and policymakers have puzzled over the fact that homeowners and businesses often fail to make investments in energy efficiency equipment—even though future energy savings exceed investment costs. The difference between actual and optimal uptake of energy efficiency technologies, known as the energy efficiency gap, has been attributed to a number of factors, including a lack of information about energy efficiency opportunities. This issue is particularly prominent in the residential sector, where homeowners may have little knowledge about the retrofitting options and gathering information is costly.

Providing targeted advice to homeowners through energy audits has the potential to reduce the information barrier and, in turn, the efficiency gap. To better understand the role of information in residential decisionmaking, RFF experts recently conducted a survey of nearly 500 home energy auditors. In a new RFF discussion paper, Karen Palmer, Margaret Walls, Hal Gordon, and Todd Gerarden address questions around three major themes:

  • The nature of the industry (for example, business characteristics and services)

  • The degree of homeowner follow-up on auditor recommendations

  • Auditor opinions on barriers to home energy improvements and the role for government

These survey findings suggest that the audit industry is only partially filling the efficiency gap. Auditors report infrequent homeowner follow-through on recommendations, with 30 percent reporting that homeowners make at least one of their recommended improvements only half the time or less and virtually none reporting that homeowners make all recommended improvements.

Auditors identify the high cost of efficiency improvements and low cost of energy as possible explanations for this infrequent investment in energy efficiency. Even if auditors are able to effectively close the information gap faced by homeowners, energy and upgrade costs are likely to be more important in determining the resulting levels of investment. 

For further discussion of this topic, including audio and video from a recent RFF First Wednesday Seminar entitled, "Can Creative Financing Programs Close the Energy Efficiency Gap?," click here.