For a Bit of Colored Ribbon

For the last year or so, I've been getting these two page energy assessment reports in the mail from Pacific Gas & Electric, our California utility company, comparing our household's energy use to those of the houses around us.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Being Evil… Could it be possible to just lower a little the “average customer” to force more people to consume less?

The electricity shows generally high consumption year round:

  • LED or other low-energy bulbs are fairly small-fry, surely?

  • How many computers and routers do you have on at home?

The gas - heating? - is the biggy, though:

  • Generally,heating or cooling - depending on climate - is the major impact

  • If you live somewhere fairly cold in the winter - you spike in Jan/Feb - you could simply go into the attic and unroll 20cm thick layer of fiberglass insulation out; your heating bill will likely plummet

high electricity consumption? 18 lamp light fittings? hmm.

I’m just terrified waiting for the first credit card company who decides to add achievements.

The graphs show that you are the clear winner! Use more electricity! Keep your lead! Make your neighbours jealous!

Actually, do you work at home? Does your wife work at home? If so, some of your neighbours are cheating by using the heat and light of their employers for significant portions of the day.

What are “similar houses”? Maybe that is the trick. If they are comparing you with someone who has no kids, never cooks and eats at home, lives in a warmer climate, or only spends some time of the year there, then there is no doubt that you lose the battle. If there is a single empty house in the stack, then it is going to lower the average — that is also the reason why often the median make more sense than the average.

There is an interesting blog about energy and efficiency at The author has some very detailed articles about finding the causes for high energy consumption and eliminating them that might be applicable to your situation. He managed to consume about half of a “typical house” in his neighborhood.

As someone else is pointing out, the comparison may be unfair. If the same was done for me, even if at home we are relatively energy efficient, we have 2 computers going on almost all day long, since both me and my SO work at home most days. On comparison, most of our neighbours have standard jobs, out of home. There’s no way to fight an idle house when you have two Macbooks around (and sometimes more gadgetry working)


I think these feedback loops are great things - I’ve seen them implemented in a couple finance managers (ie. how does your spending compare to your demographics?).

As for the energy - I think home appliances (washing mashine, dishwasher, dryer) still may contribute a huge part of the bill - even more so with 3 kids (I think a very efficient washer or dishwasher uses around 1 kWh per cycle, a condensing dryer with heat pump probably 2kWh- the older generations can easily eat 5 kWh per cycle).

And I wouldn’t underestimate all the gadgets on standby - I’ve seen some of these take ~20 W - that alone is 15 kWh per month

@will 20cm loft insulation isn’t a lot. Current UK standard is 270mm and that’s likely to go up. 30cm seems a good number.

changing to a more efficient fridge/freezer and a smaller/more efficient desktop/server/firewall helped us (heating/cooking is gas).

For the love of god, what are the make and model of the candelabra bulbs?

Did you start by measuring where most of your electricity is being used?

Have you found an explanation for the different shape of your electricity usage (March-May) compared to the others?

Changing lightbulbs in fridges sounds a lot like something we know well from another world… sounds like premature optimization.

Reminds of this, I watched a short documentary on this :

Call me a cynic, but I’d bet there’s not a house in your community that get’s a “you’re the winner” version. Much of the comparison data is probably made up.

The bizarre thing, to me, is that this game is totally not in the energy company’s interest.


Quite funny reading. Almost every comment is about that “Blut und Boden” pose, an ultimate horror but absolutely no coding here.

I do not know about energy companies interests here, but I can swear that “environment-friendly” light-bulbs producers interests are definitely huge.

Could it be possible to just lower a little the "average customer" to force more people to consume less?

Of course, as people consume less, the average customer’s consumption will be lowered, so that’s kind of built in.

Jeff — what is your house’s insulation like?

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As others have pointed out, you have two big problems with this competition: 1) what does the utility company consider to be similar homes and 2) premature optimization.

  1. NStar in the Northeast has a similar program, and there is also a website you can visit to see a historical record and submit more information about your house and inhabitants to get a more accurate comparison to similar homes. You have young twin children, which I suspect few of your neighbors do.

  2. PG&E probably also offers free energy efficiency audits. I did one for the last place I rented in Boston and the number one thing we could do was insulate the walls better. I can’t do much about that as a renter, but your bulbs and shower head are probably only small gains at best. Even in California, your heating and cooling system, insulation, and air sealing are probably the big ones. The auditor will tell you for sure. Bonus points if they do a door blower test.

Very funny/cool. I want to second William Furr’s comments re: insulation.

Check/improve your attic insulation, sealing around your doors, insulation around ductwork, the quality of your windows, etc.

Then there are other optimizations like only heating the part of the house you are in, trying to isolate your usage.