Winning means using less

America is a competitive country. Fast cars, backboard shattering dunks and upper deck home runs get our adrenaline pumping. We even turn eating into a competition. So why not turn energy efficiency into a competitive effort?

Most people agree that using energy wisely is a smart decision. It’s good for your wallet, and it’s good for the planet. But let’s be honest – it can be pretty boring. Dancing with the Stars turned ballroom dancing into something exciting, so the same can be done with energy efficiency.

Several utilities have used the concept of energy challenges to turn energy efficiency into something that gets people excited, and it’s easy to recreate this friendly form of competition. All you need are two groups or even just one family to turn finding energy hogs into a fun activity that saves money.

So, how can you get in on the fun? You will want to compare your energy use this month to the same month last year. This will give a more accurate account of your use. If you don’t want to compare to the same month as last year, you can also do a month-to-month or even week-to-week comparison. Just use data that you can easily access – and remember, this is meant to be fun.

Let’s use an energy competition between two neighbors as an example. Both neighbors will need to know what their baseline energy use is (contact your utility provider if you do not have this information handy). Ideally, use the month from the prior year. This is the number that you will be competing against. The goal of the competition is to have the greatest percentage reduction for the month against that baseline. Now the fun starts. Simply figure out ways to reduce your energy use by the largest amount without spending more than $50. The goal is fun and easy. You shouldn’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on improvements to make a positive impact.

The secret weapon to winning will be to use your kids, since they are amazingly creative and have a unique way of looking at things. Here are some of their suggestions for winning strategies:

  • Go camping outside for a few days instead of living inside the house
  • Cook meals on a grill instead of the kitchen
  • Watch less TV, disconnect the video game system or turn off the computer (Please be aware that these tips may lead to family bonding time.)
  • Unscrew some light bulbs
  • Unplug battery and cell phone chargers
  • Cut down on washing by using washing machines and dishwashers only when they are truly full
  • “Fine” family members (usually the husband or kids) for leaving the lights on in an empty room or a door to the outside open

Once the competition starts, engage everyone in your home to brainstorm ideas to reduce energy use. Challenge everyone in your home to develop a list of things to do. The person with the longest list could win a candy bar. Then do them. Equip the kids with caulk guns to shoot the energy leaks or weather stripping to reinforce the windows. Try to turn everything into a game or a race.

What does the winner of the competition get? In this sort of competition, everyone wins because they are saving energy and saving money. But the prize can be as simple as a pizza party for the winner. Several colleges have tried energy competitions among their dorms. It is amazing what college students will do to earn a free pizza party.

How much energy can you save doing a competition like this? Electric co-ops that have engaged their members in these sorts of competitions have reported energy savings ranging from 9 to 58 percent. Those that saved the most made more drastic changes, such as grilling or camping. The energy savings do go down once the competition ends. But co-ops have found that even when the competition is over, those who played the game are still using less energy than before the competition, and some of the easier behaviors like only running a full dishwasher or unscrewing light bulbs stick.

These ideas can be fun for all who compete, but making a long-lasting impact on home energy savings is the best prize of all!


Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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