For a Bit of Colored Ribbon

I meant “their” not “there” – sorry.

Ironically, I was reminded of an article by Joel Spolsky, your ex-partner at Stack Exchange, on the downsides of incentivization and why it never works, and yet it was decided go on and incorporate that idea into Stack Exchange.

I think rating systems of such nature give rise to what I’d like to call virtual oligarchy. Not helpful in the long run.

I saw my electrical bill go way down after I stopped using the electric clothes dryer and started hanging the clothes instead.

“we set our thermostat appropriately”

Hmmm, what does THAT mean to you? What make you think there is a direct correlation between energy use and how you jerk your thermostat around?

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

Great point. Exactily why “average” is completely bogus. We need granularity so you can compare to the neighbor of YOUR choice.

“You’ve tricked me into becoming obsessed with understanding and reducing my household energy consumption.”

I’m in the energy efficiency field, referred to as a “Subject Matter Expert” by a statistical analysis friend, and help people save 30-70% on their energy use. Here’s my “opportunity” calculator:

People have absolutely the wrong intuition when it comes to saving energy. I’d love to talk to you about this and invite you to contact me.

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

Just the one computer on all the time, 17 watts. And the router is 10 watts. Measured with the kill-a-watt. You can read about them here:

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.

Good point, I do work from home, so my power usage during the day is going to be inevitably higher.


I found the best options on eBay. Nothing was perfect, but I found a 3 watt for $4.40 that has acceptable looks and size. This moves it from from 20 watt X 18 = 360 watts to 3 watt X 18 = 54 watts. And it’s on several hours a day, like clockwork…

we just unplug the power strip that activates the Xbox, DVR, TV, etc unless we are actively using it

This is also a good and more automatic option; a power strip that turns off other sockets when the primary (e.g. TV) socket is off:

LED bulbs are not actually any more energy efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs

completely and ridiculously untrue. 60 watt “equivalent” in an LED is 9 watts. That’s pretty darn bright; I have 6 watt LEDs that call themselves 60 watt “equivalent” that are not quite, so let’s go with the less optimistic 9 watt number. Now compare what a CFL bulb takes to get 60w equivalent – 13 watts. So the LED uses 30% less energy to generate the same amount of light.

I would call them and tell them to stop ending me BS charts… BTW, standby of devices eats power like flys eat hot.

Looking at the latest study I could find by the US DOE (published in April of 2012), it does appear that many LEDs are finally becoming as efficient as CFLs, in terms of lumens per watt. The DOE study (PDF here) shows a mean of 60 lm/W for LEDs tested, which is comprable to CFLs. There is still a wide variance from one LED lamp to the next, though. The best ones do surpass CFLs in terms of lm/W, but many do not.

That study also reviews actual output compared to what retailers claim, which is interesting to read.

Gamification won’t just work everywhere. Most things are very hard to turn into a game.

An example where it works perfectly is a mod on crimsonland. You stand in the middle of a field while monsters come crawling towards you. They each have a text above their head and when you type the text correctly and press enter your character shoots a shotgun blast at the monster. This combines typing skills with fun and action.

In the case of Stackoverflow, yes there are game elements but it’s still not a game. Therefore it will only matter to people who care about programming quality.

Microsoft tried something similar with programming achievements, which has not really worked. I think the reason is that you don’t get a total point count for good work and there is no place to show off your score.

As someone from a cold country (Switzerland) I would expect insulation first. We insulate like maniacs, and for good reason. In the long run, it’s far cheaper than heating. All windows here are double or even triple glass and close properly, all wall are made of bricks or cement, and insulated on top of that.

There are heat-meters working in the infrared, which you can point at your house to find out if you leak heat (generally windows).

Also strange: Your electricity usage does not peak at the same point as everyone else. What gives?

The real wtf here is that the owner of stack overflow and all-around badass in a 1196 sqft house.

Hi Jeff, I am super stoked that you posted about this! I’m programmer working at OPOWER, and we make these reports on behalf of utility companies, PG&E being one of them. (Disclaimer: I had worked on parts of the report, but have moved on, there’s a lot people who have graced this report).

To address some of the comments:

  1. "Similar homes" are based on many criteria, and there is a sample size threshold or else a customer isn't eligible to get the report:
    • Climate region
    • House size and dwelling type (Apt or home)
    • A/C type: central/window
    • Heating type: electric/gas/combined/other
    • # of Adults, kids, pets
    • # and type of appliances
    • fireplaces / spas / pools

    Those are the ones off the top of my head, there’s more.

  2. Heating and cooling is the biggest factor: A/C and water heating/cooling is huge.
  3. Appliances are huge too, while lighting is actually a very small piece of the equation.
  4. We've found problems with people's homes after doing these reports, and that has led the customer in doing an energy audit, and fixing the broken things, saving $$$ in the long run
  5. We're working hard to make the report even better: break down the usage by appliances, suggesting tips when we detect the outlier appliance/behavior, etc...
  6. We collect the data through smart meters, utility companies, end user filled out forms...

Here’s more info:

Hope that answers a lot of questions and quells a bit of the skeptics

Zach Wiener, as always, has thought through the worst-possible-case scenario…

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I’m convinced those reports from the energy companies are a lie. I’m in the same boat, with it saying that I’m 33%-50% MORE for my house than the average home in my 'hood. However, when I talk to my neighbors (yeah I’m kind of weird and will actually do that :wink: ) I find that my bills are significantly LESS than theirs (which makes sense as we don’t have kids, don’t use much lighting, keep the heat real low, run only the bare minimum computer equipment, etc). Therefore I consider those reports more as a lie designed to get people to improve usage rather than an actual case of gamification.

If you really want to beat this you need to get better than monthly updates about what you’re using. I’ve been using this ( for the last few years and it works great. It registers fluctuation as it happens, like when your fridge kicks in, or the garage door is opened. In the first few months of owning one, I watched the dashboard continuously. Whenever a spike would occur I’d run around the house to figure out what just happened. On of the big ones was actually a 6 bulb chandelier. Each bulb was 40 watts, for a total of 240W. I swapped those for CF, bringing the total down to about 60W. If you’re not comfortable inside your electrical box you might want an electrician to install it, but it’s really painless. They even have third party apps ( I’ve been using Eragy, but I’m looking into Bidgely.

Lots of great suggestions already above - especially about phantom power and appliances.

A comprehensive home energy audit using a blower door test and thermograhpic scanning equipment will help find where the air leaks are and how much energy is wasted from them. Testing the ductwork for leaks is useful too. A good analysis and report should demonstrate which upgrades or retrofits will give the best return on your investment.

To geek out pretty hard on the science of energy upgrades, this is a report from BuildItGreen and Energy Upgrade California.

Good luck!

The paranoid in me wants me to suggest that everyone who gets a bill sees that same kind of shame-inducing graph. This isn’t gamification, it’s guiltification. E.G. your post.

…but since you mention the twins, how’s that working out?
My twins are the only kids we have, so it’s been man-on-man coverage for the last thirteen years; but with an older boy (that makes three kids, right?) have you had to fall back into zone coverage? Curious.

It’s interesting that your electricity use graph peaks in March/April. The comparison graphs peak in December/January; this is probably because they include homes that have heat pumps and judging from your natural gas use you have a furnace. That explains why you have an absence of a peak in Jan, but the peak in March is mystifying. Air conditioning use should be highest in July or August.

You should think about your air conditioning and heating systems. A/C units slowly get less efficient as they get older and get much less efficient when the refrigerant charge is not right. If you get a new furnace, you have a number of efficiency options: 2-stage heating, an ECM (aka variable speed) blower motor, or a 90% or even 96% efficiency system.

All but your tankless water heater are reducing energy use. Tankless heaters tend to increase usage and not reduce consumption.

Do you keep your computers on all the time? How about all those chargers for your gadgets? They could be the source of higher power consumption.

And you’re right, when there is a report COMPARING your “performance” with others, there is competition. It works for those who are driven by competition.

The back-end is actually powered by a company called who partners with local utilities (including PG&E). Very cool stuff indeed!