Improving Energy Conservation With Effective Home Audit Programs in California Using Communication and Commitment

Aronson, E. (1990). Applying social psychology to desegregation and energy conservation. Special Issue: Illustrating the value of basic research. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 1, 118-132.
The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in California provided a home audit program as a method to improve energy conservation. This initiative gave homeowners a free home inspection as well as advice on ways to make the dwelling energy efficient. Although this expert advice was free of charge, and financing was made available, few customers were making the recommended changes. After conducting a literature review, auditors participating in a pilot program were advised to incorporate two behavior change tools during their home visits. First, auditors began communicating with vivid, personal information. For instance, rather than simply pointing out cracks around doors, the auditor would compare the cracks to a hole the size of a basketball. Also, suggestions were framed in terms of what was lost by not undertaking the home improvements. Second, auditors were instructed to involve the customer during the home visit. For example, home owners might be asked to take measurement or read meters. This strategy was used to induce homeowners into making a commitment to weatherizing their houses.

Since the home audit program is expensive to complete (US$ 115), PG&E hoped to make the visits as influential as possible. Through the use of communication and commitment, auditors persuaded 60% of homeowners to make their houses more energy efficient. This is more than three times the national average.

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