We don’t know exactly how the survey was worded, but it looks like people would need to see their utility costs going up before spending money on improvements. From the latimes.com:

Homeowners need to complete an average of four energy efficiency upgrades, such as insulation or high-efficiency windows, to see their utility bills decrease, according to a new survey released Tuesday. Homeowners who completed only 2.3 improvements actually saw their bills increase 10% to 30%, according to the 2011 Energy Pulse Survey by the Shelton Group, a Tennessee-based marketing group focused on sustainability that polled 1,502 Americans. 

“[M]ost homeowners are more likely to start with a low-risk, low-investment improvement such as CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) or programmable thermostats that create a ‘quick win’ — fast results with minimal effort. Since quick wins reduce resistance and increase motivation, this should put them on the path to additional behaviors,” the study says. “However … many homeowners start and end with CFLs. The motivation to move on to the next activity doesn’t seem to occur naturally.”

Just 42% of the survey’s respondents had installed high-efficiency windows, 39% had added extra insulation, 37% had installed a higher-efficiency heating or cooling system and 24% had upgraded to a higher-efficiency water heater.

The No. 1 reason homeowners make energy-efficient improvements is to reduce their utility bills, the survey found. Yet the high cost and slow return on investment of the most valuable improvements has been a stumbling block. Replacing old, inefficient windows can lower energy bills 7% to 15%, but the payback period is between 10 years and 30 years, according to the study, citing Department of Energy research. Improving insulation can save 10% on an annual energy bill, but the payback period is 12 years to 26 years.

“The top energy-saving driver for the vast majority of Americans continues to be about dollars and cents,” said Suzanne Shelton, president of the Shelton Group. “It’s a green decision to save energy — but for consumers, it’s the green in their wallets that matters most.”

The highest-income and best educated Americans were most sensitive to utility bill increases and likely to take action. Those earning $100,000 or more annually said their monthly bills would need to increase an average of $113 to prompt an energy-efficient home improvement such as window replacement, whereas those earning less than $25,000 said their monthly bills would need to increase $120. Those with graduate degrees said it would take a $98 increase to trigger an energy-efficient upgrade, whereas those with a high school degree or less said the bill would need to increase $122, the study found.

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