Are We Wrong about Households and Energy Efficiency?

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We’ve been hearing for a long time that households aren’t interested in energy efficiency gadgets. Give consumers the choice between an electronic toy for the home and a smart thermostat, and they take the toy, right?

Turns out, we may not give consumers enough credit.

Automated devices that save energy (and money) are now the most popular electronic devices for home installation. So says a new study by the Consumer Electronics Association.

In fact, the energy efficient thermostat beat out security systems and home theater in the expanding home tech market.

“The rise in housing starts in 2013 has contributed to a steady increase in the overall outlook for home technology,” said Kevin Tillmann, a CEA senior research analyst. “Products that can offer energy efficiency are leading the home automation technology market, with the ability to save money serving as a key motivator for purchases.”

This defies conventional thinking in the industry about households and energy efficiency. The belief is that energy gadgets don’t reduce utility bills enough to engage consumers.

CEA found that almost half (47 percent) of US households that are online now have either a programmable or smart thermostat. Meanwhile, 31 percent of these households own security technologies; 25 percent home theater systems.

And it looks like even better days may be ahead for energy efficient home tech. A sizable percentage of households plan to buy automated energy efficient products in the future, according to CEA.

Credit: CEA

Credit: CEA

Installers take note: Consumers prefer to have the devices professionally installed, especially if they are energy-related, according to the study.

The bad news? While energy efficient thermostats are selling, lighting controls and home energy management systems  still aren’t making it into many homes — although sales are trending upward.  See the CEA graphic below.

Percentage of Homes with Installed Tech cropped

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Additional graphic from CEA

Home Automation Feature Desirability

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Jim Gunshinan says:

    Hi Elisa. Thanks for another great blog and for sharing the results of some great research.
    A while back EPA’s Energy Star de-listed programmable thermostats, because there was little showing that people actually used them. Is there anything in the research you cite about the use of the thermostats? With all the wireless communication going on between consumer, utility, and third party efficiency folks, I’m hoping there is some data out there.

    Thanks, Jim

    • Elisa Wood says:

      Hi Jim,
      Thanks, as always, for the insightful questions. Wish I knew the answer. I’m working from a summary and some charts passed along to me by CEA. The full report costs $$$, although it is free for CEA members. Nothing I have talks about use, but there is a chart that shows how much consumers desire certain capabilities. I just posted it at the bottom of the article, if you want to take a look. Not quite the same, I know, but perhaps an indicator.

  2. Blasnik report – $25 year savings, p3 (Who Hoo! Cup a coffee! $2 a month is pretty hard for most people to confirm, or even see. )

    Many of my customers report that they saw both comfort improvement and energy savings after ABANDONING setback routines. So assuming applying prescriptive measures to complex systems will somehow magically enforce savings to occur is absurd.

    One of my 4 Ecobee thermostats tells me it is saving me 19%, though both my consumption and cost seem unchanged, and they looked at neither my before or after consumption. (scroll to bottom of album)

    I find Ecobee thermostats to be great tools, although the marketing claims seem fraudulent and lacking integrity.