Microsoft Hohm + Social Networking = Community of Energy Savers

REDMOND, Wash. — April 18, 2010 — Seattle homeowner Joel Telling wanted to do an air-leak audit of his home, but wasn’t sure he could justify hiring a professional to measure how much air and heat were escaping and how much the leakage was costing him. So he asked for advice about the process on the Microsoft Hohm discussion group on Facebook, and got a suggestion for a way to do his own simple airflow test.

“That gave me an idea of where the leaks are and how to fix them,” says Telling. “It’s just great to save money — especially when it’s stuff you can do yourself.”

Microsoft Hohm is an online application that lets homeowners and apartment dwellers track their energy use and receive personalized recommendations for saving energy. Using advanced analytics licensed from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, Hohm lets users set up a free account and enter details such as a home’s size, age, and type of heating and cooling, and then offers a tailored list of potential changes based on those details — for example, how to insulate an electric water heater. Several utility providers are also participating in Hohm, enabling their customers to automatically track actual usage and costs through the site.

Telling signed up for an account when Hohm was launched, hoping to get specific guidance for his unusual house: with more than 5,000 square feet, it includes a newly built apartment for his in-laws and three separate heating systems. He was afraid a big house would require big renovations to make any difference in his energy bills, but didn’t know where to start. So he and his wife, Mickey, are letting Hohm do the initial legwork, and taking advantage of the combined creative force of the online Hohm community to find out ways to get quick results without a large initial investment.

The Hohm blog and the related community on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter engage users in a continuing discussion of the best ways to reduce their environmental impact. Conversation threads have touched on methods for efficiently heating water, debates about whether to turn off lights when leaving a room for just a few minutes, and suggestions about which indoor plants can improve air quality.

April 18, 2010
Microsoft Hohm can help homeowners measure energy consumption used to heat and cool a home, and take practical steps to reduce energy bills.

Elliott Lemenager, online community manager for Microsoft Hohm, says that online conversation is immensely rewarding. “The community is such that when you put out information, you get a huge response,” Lemenager says. “From one tip you get a whole page of people’s ideas and input; that near-real-time interaction is empowering.”

The ideas and questions that users share in the forums and on the social media sites are directly influencing the continued development of Microsoft Hohm.

“Everything we’ve posted has been something that was requested by the community,” Lemenager says. “We’re using these social tools to really gain feedback. People participate, and we take information about the problems they’re having, or things they’d like to see, and feed it back to the developer team.”

In Seattle, Telling continues to use the Hohm blog and the Facebook and Twitter feeds to spotlight new ideas; for example, he knows he can skip the Hohm video about installing a programmable thermostat (he has three) but will take a few minutes to find out more about a gadget that lets him track the household’s per-hour energy usage.

“I want the house to be more efficient because I want to spend less money on it,” Telling says. “That should be anyone’s real goal. I know that there’s the carbon footprint, saving the environment for our kids; that’s all important, but seeing $100 less on my electricity bill — that would be pretty cool.”

Telling is also interested in larger-scale improvements such as installing solar panels, but the upfront cost — $250,000 for the full roof, according to one quote — is more than he can afford right now.

“Any time you start talking about major adoption, the cost of entry is a barrier,” Telling says. “I think Microsoft Hohm is on the right track because they’re providing software that gives you insight into your usage and how to save money.”

The recommendations on Hohm are enabling Telling to prioritize the big renovations that have the potential to give him the best return on his investment. But he won’t let the cost of major improvements discourage him from identifying and following through on the smaller changes he can make in the short term.

“The main thing is that it’s always in the back of my mind when I’m doing anything; I’m always turning off lights, I will close windows, or I’ll put on a sweater,” says Telling. “So even if I’m not actively crawling up and installing insulation in my attic, it’s still in the back of my mind that there are everyday ways that I can conserve a little. And if you can save a little every day, that adds up to a lot in the long run.”

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