If every household in America improved their heating efficiency by 16 percent, it would have the same impact as taking all cars in the state of California off the road. Accomplishing this technical feat is manageable, and it doesn’t require a solar panel on every roof.
Here’s the key issue: it’s very difficult to know if your home is a 'gas-guzzling-Hummer' or a 'fuel-sipping-Prius' when it comes to heating. We measured the energy consumption of dozens of homes this past winter in the Boston area, and found that some homes use three times more energy per square foot than others. And the people who live there didn't even know about it. Chances are that if you haven’t gotten an energy audit recently, you might not know where your home stands either.
This is where my team and I come in, with a home heating efficiency sensor that we’ve been developing. We’re a bunch of engineering geeks from MIT and we’ve built a low-cost, universal sensor that sends real-time efficiency information right to your smartphone.
We’re convinced that awareness inspires action. People may believe that they’re being efficient by turning down their thermostats a few degrees, but in reality the quality of their insulation and the efficiency of their heating systems matters much more. These issues are largely invisible to homeowners, because it takes a technician to stop by every home and run an individual audit. This approach is expensive and difficult to scale, as it requires thousands of technicians to check every home.
We wanted to find a better, less complicated, and less expensive way for homeowners to keep tabs on their energy usage. Simplicity and cost-management were key in our design process: in some of the cases we saw in Boston, lower-income homes were so poorly insulated that simple sealing improvements would pay for themselves in less than 6 months. Again, the people living there were unaware of this. We aimed to make our sensor affordable for every homeowner, whether they’re an energy-enthusiast trying to be as efficient as possible, or the average homeowner trying to save a few bucks on heating bills. We see no downside to this approach.
Our sensor—The HeatMeter—enables energy monitoring for propane, natural gas and oil for the first time. These are the most common heating fuels in America. The sensor installs in less than five minutes with no professional help. The heating technicians that we showed this to were blown away by what it can do, and we believe that you will be, too.
This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at good.is/energy.
House image originally from Shutterstock; second and third images courtesy of Radu Gogoana.