Sensors & Behavior (ARPA-E) > Behavioral Interventions

Appliance Calculator

Will consumers purchase energy-efficient refrigerators that have higher price tags, but save money in the long term on their utility bills? In this project, three online experiments explored the ability of energy and cost messaging to nudge shoppers in this direction.

Appliance calculator website screen

Investigators: Sebastien Houde, K. Carrie Armel, Samuel McClure

Researchers built an appliance recommendation website to help users learn about the electricity consumption and operating cost of both the refrigerator they own and new refrigerators. The latter also were shown with prices. Research results are based on the website’s users selecting refrigerator models to compare, not actual purchases, because consumers generally research online but make purchases in physical appliance stores.

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Publications and Presentations

Bunching with the Stars: How Firms Respond to Environmental Certification
Working paper, University of Maryland
Houde, S. (2013):

Selling Energy Efficiency Online with Simple Nudges
Manuscript in preparation
Houde S., Armel C., and McClure

How Consumers Respond to Product Certification: A Welfare Analysis of Energy Star
Working paper, Stanford University
Houde, S. (2012)

Future Work

These results have a somewhat profound implication for behavioral interventions. An attempt to produce more energy-efficient purchasing behaviors by using an intervention derived from an analysis of what the underlying problem was—the first cost bias—failed to produce an effect. Resarchers attempted to address the tendency of people to make an appliance purchase decision based on the upfront cost of an appliance rather than the longer term energy savings. In contrast, where the intervention was driven simply by using some of the previously demonstrated most effective behavior change techniques, we saw a change in average kWh of between 10-20% depending on the measure used. Thus, for quick and effective results, it may make sense to first try the most effective proven behavior change techniques to date.

Future research should test additional manipulations to clarify how to best design online appliance recommendation websites to encourage efficient purchases, and which types of behavioral techniques are most effective.