Can a thousand examples of extreme home energy reductions catalyze a movement? Linda Wigington, founder of Affordable Comfort Inc. (ACI), thinks so. ACI developed the Thousand Home Challenge (THC), an initiative to drive a revolution in residential energy conservation.
“The THC seeks to show what’s possible in [home energy savings],” says Wigington. “We know what needs to be done, but we need demonstrations of how to do it.” The goal? To recruit homeowners willing to reduce energy consumption in their existing homes by 70% to 90%, documenting the process along the way so others can follow in their footsteps.
Homeowners seeking to shrink their home’s energy footprint can apply to participate via the THC website. Although ACI doesn’t provide financial support, the nonprofit offers tools and resources to help participants meet the program’s standards. Of course, homeowners implementing energy-saving projects reap the ongoing benefits of reduced utility bills and, often, improved thermal comfort in their homes.
The THC offers two energy-reduction paths. Option A requires a 75% verifiable reduction in annual energy use based on 12 to 18 months of recent utility bills. Those without access to past energy-use data, and low-energy-use households seeking even deeper reductions. can choose Option B, which factors in climate, occupancy, heating fuel source, and floor area to calculate a unique threshold for each project. This number represents the sum of four categories of demands—heating, cooling, water heating, and “everything else”—for a high-performance house, measured in kilowatt-hours per year. Participants must verify they’ve met the threshold through 12 months of utility bills or other documentation.
About 80 projects are taking the Challenge before the program officially launches, including 19 that have formally met their thresholds. Not surprisingly, many of the projects are in Massachusetts and California. California utility company PG&E supported ACI’s efforts to develop the Challenge. Incentives for renewables, while not directly tied to the THC, make participating a little more affordable. National Grid, Massachusetts’ utility company, actively promoted the Challenge by offering an additional $10,000 to the incentives already available through its pilot Deep Energy Retrofit (DER) program.
The Quincy house (see profile) took advantage of National Grid incentive, but a project doesn’t have to be a DER to meet the Challenge. Wigington cites one project in a mild climate for which the major expense was $50 on energy monitors and plastic for the windows. The main tool was behavior modification, which lowered energy use substantially. She says the emphasis on behavior modification and community solutions—along with improved efficiency and incorporation of renewable energy technologies—distinguish the THC from programs like LEED and Passive House. She also sees the Challenge as an opportunity for people hailing from different philosophical camps to learn from each other.
Homeowner Ward Lutz heard about the Challenge and hoped to reduce his carbon footprint by remodeling his small Ohio bungalow. Inspired by Passive House standards, he started with the “20:40:60” rule (R-values for foundation, walls, and attic), doing most of the work himself on a tight budget. Lutz’s new and improved envelope and willingness to live with cooler indoor temperatures—60°F to 65°F in the winter—enabled close to an 89% reduction in heating energy use. His is one of the first projects to officially meet the targeted threshold.
ACI hopes to collect a range of projects representing a variety of climates, structures, approaches, and budgets, and welcomes projects that already meet the Challenge. The goal of the THC is to “contribute to momentum” by inspiring others.
Lutz officially met his home’s targeted threshold after his first round of energy-use reductions. He has since added a 3.5 kW grid-tied PV system and a heat-pump water heater (see “Heat-Pump Water Heaters” in this issue). His home has produced more energy than it used for the last two years.
“That’s been one of the real surprises,” says Wigington. “People that meet the threshold keep going further. It stimulates an appetite to do more.”
Interested in taking the THC? Review case studies at thousandhomechallenge.com.