Panel Paper: Decreasing Energy Costs in Federally Assisted Housing

Thursday, November 8, 2018
8224 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mary Steffel, Northeastern University, Mary Clair Turner, U.S. General Services Administration and Michael Hand, U.S. Forest Service

Housing and Urban Development (HUD)'s own "energy bill" - the amount that HUD spends annually on heating, lighting, and cooling its portfolio of public and assisted housing and section 8 vouchers - reached the $5 billion mark in 2007. Public Housing utilities cost more than $1 billion per year. In turn, these costs affect HUD programs. Yet, whereas much is known about how to increase energy savings in private housing, relatively little is known about how to boost savings in public housing. Moreover, whereas much research has shown that providing residents with information on how to save energy can decrease consumption, less is known about how much information is best to provide.

This research tests whether providing public housing residents with one or many energy-saving tips can meaningfully reduce energy consumption. Providing residents with a single tip may increase savings by identifying a straightforward action plan and avoiding information overload (Belanger et al., 2015; Huang & Zhang, 2013). Alternatively, providing multiple tips may increase savings by helping residents find and take the actions that are easiest for them personally and making conservation feel more easily achievable (Huang & Zhang, 2013; Kruglanski, Pierro, & Sheveland, 2011).

Units at seven New York City Housing Authority developments were block randomized by development and number of bedrooms to receive no flyer, a flyer with a single tip, or a flyer with five tips in early September 2017. The single tip was, “Turn off AC when not at home.” The additional tips were, “Use fans instead of AC to stay cool,” “Open windows when it’s nice outside,” “Close windows when it’s hot outside,” and “Close drapes and blinds on hot sunny days.” Both flyers were printed in English on one side and Spanish on the reverse. Average unit-level daily energy use will be compared over two weeks following receipt of the flyers, controlling for baseline energy use in July 2017 and assignment block fixed effects.

Our analysis will compare average energy consumption for units assigned to either flyer condition to the control condition. We also will examine whether the one-tip flyer or multiple-tip flyer is more effective at reducing energy consumption. This analysis will provide evidence on whether providing energy-saving tips—and how many energy-saving tips—has potential as a low-cost, scalable, and effective intervention for reducing energy consumption and utility costs in public housing.