A Low Energy Efficiency Rating is Destroying My Marriage

Apples and Oranges

Watson: Holmes, I got the following email from one of our readers looking for some energy advice. I thought I would share it with you and see what you think. It reads,

Enclosed with our electric bill every month is a Residential Energy Efficiency Rating. It compares how much energy our house uses with our neighbors for the current month, year and for the same month last year. Before my wife and I were married, she always rated in the highest category. She was thrilled to know how much more concerned about the environment she was than her selfish neighbors who obviously weren’t worried about Global Warming or the Future of Planet Earth.

After I moved in, our rating started to drop. For a while we were about average and then we sunk to below average. The electric company is considering increasing the electric rates for users who rank below average. We’re too embarrassed to even go outside anymore. I’m not sure our marriage will survive. About the only solution we have been able to come up with is divorce. If I move out she can get her old rating back and hopefully, in time, the respect of her neighbors. Help me Watson. What can we do? – signed Energy Abuser

Holmes: What a shame.That’s really a tough way to start a marriage. What’s your advice Watson?

Watson: You of all people Holmes you know you can’t solve a mystery without employing some detective skills, problem-solving techniques to first determine the facts. So I wrote back to “Abuser” and asked him some more questions like, how does your house compare with your neighbors’ in size, number of residents, occupied hours, activities, etc.?

Holmes: Good thinking. What did he say?

Watson: They live in a 20 year old development that has a lot of diversity. The people across the street have four children in a high school that is only a few hundred yards behind their house. The mom encourages her kids to have their friends in for breakfast, she fixes lunch for several every day and a lot of kids come over after sports practice in the afternoons.

The couple next door are in their late 80’s and the wife is confined to a wheel chair. Two neighbors are single school teachers each living in small garden homes.

Holmes: What about Abuser’s house? How was it used before and after they got married and he moved in?

Watson: His wife is a nurse who works 4-1/2 ten hour days every week and is on call one weekend a month. She had a set-back thermostat that brought the house to the required temperature only when she was at home.

“Abuser” has his own business and works out of the house. He remodeled a large basement room, added lights and runs the furnace and air conditioner as required for his comfort.

Holmes: Seems like a nice arrangement. I don’t see a problem.

Watson: Neither did I so I asked “Abuser” if he had talked to the Utility Company. He said he had and they admitted that the system wasn’t perfect but at least they were doing something to try to encourage the users to save energy. They did offer to send one of the three full-time counsellors they had hired to deal with the complaints about the rating system out to discuss their marriage problems. Also, in case they ended up divorced they had a deal that would entitle his ex-wife to get her old Energy Efficiency Rating back.

Anyway Holmes, what do you think needs to be done?

Holmes: My Dad worked for the electric company for nearly 40 years Watson. When I first got into the energy conservation business I remembering him telling me about dealing with complaints from homeowners about high electric bills for nearly all of those years. Nine times out of ten the basis for their complaint was that “their neighbor’s bill was lower”. They wanted him to do something about it. I am sure he spent many hours patiently explaining to people that their neighbor’s house and bill had absolutely nothing to do with theirs. What they needed to focus on was their house, their furnace, their air conditioner, their appliances, and the habits and practices of their family.

Watson: That confirms what I was thinking.Their Residential Energy Efficiency Rating System is flawed. They’re trying to compare apples with oranges. In this case the Rating was exactly the opposite of what it should been.

Holmes: Right. Now that “Abuser” has moved in and has his office in the basement, he is saving all of the energy associated with commuting, the energy associated with heating and cooling another house plus a separate office in another building. Since there are two people instead of one living in the house, of course its energy usage will increase. That’s only common sense. However, a fair rating system would have rewarded “Abuser” and his bride for their efficiency.

Watson: I told him that they should banish any more talk about divorce; marriages like that are an Energy Professional’s dream come true. I also told him that I think it is a real shame that the neighbors with the four teenagers have to give them up for medical experiments just to get their Energy Efficiency Rating back above average.

Tell us about your experiences, both good and bad with energy professionals, what has worked and what hasn't. Send us your comments, thoughts and suggestions on how to improve our profession so we can all continue to learn from each other. Thanks – Holmes & Watson.