New website helps residents take charge of home energy use
In mid-June, CEE rolled out a new website for homeowners and renters. Home Energy Hub contains practical and accessible information about home energy projects and improvements that was sourced from and vetted by CEE’s team of energy experts, researchers, and engineers. Topics range from radon safety to attic insulation, with additional discussion on cutting-edge efficiency solutions like solar technology and cold climate heat pumps.
I sat down with the three people who spearheaded the project to learn more about the process and result of the website’s design. Becky Olson serves as CEE’s director of residential programs; Danielle Butenhoff serves as customer engagement manager; and Emma Appleman serves as digital communications specialist. We chatted about why they felt they needed to make the website, how to use it, and how it might evolve in the future.
Why did you create Home Energy Hub? What need were you trying to meet?
Danielle: We created this website with residents in mind. We wanted to provide accessible and valuable explanations for common home energy problems and opportunities around energy efficiency, as well as to offer an intro to working with contractors and cost comparisons for projects. We hope it eliminates knowledge barriers to home energy projects and empowers residents to take action.
Becky: All of our posts offer solutions that are mindful of our specific climate. Similar websites exist with a broader focus, but there are special considerations that must be made for both our humid summers and our frigid winters. Because of our climate, we also see different construction styles here than aren’t common across the rest of the country, so we offer nuanced information relevant to how homes here are built.
Emma: We were also trying to meet a need for our residential staff. In the past our Energy Advisors and HES staff sent people all over the internet for resources and answers to their questions. Home Energy Hub plucks all the relevant info from those disparate sources and centralizes it in one, cohesive, CEE-endorsed message.
What’s an example of a moment when Home Energy Hub is a useful tool, for CEE’s Energy Advisors or for customers?
Emma: Essentially, we’re trying to answer a common homeowner question: Where do I start? One example that comes to mind for homeowners — let’s say it’s a 95-degree day and your AC just died. The unit came with the house, and you don’t know what to do. Home Energy Hub can tell you what your next step should be and explain your options. Essentially, it provides information to help you make an informed decision — information that has been vetted by energy experts, no less.
Danielle: Additionally, when our field staff assess a home in a home energy visit, they sit down with the homeowner at the end of the visit and explain what they have found and where the home’s areas for improvement are. Now with Home Energy Hub, they can offer homeowners the chance to dig deeper and learn more about how their homes work and decide what choices are right for them.
How many people contributed to Home Energy Hub?
Becky: Many of CEE’s energy experts — ranging from engineers to researchers to field staff — contributed to the website’s more than 30 posts on home energy topics ranging from the common and practical to the innovative and aspirational.
Danielle: The topics were selected based off of the experiences of our field staff. By incorporating their feedback on what homeowners asked about most frequently, we made sure that the site was going to be as useful as possible.
How did you pick the four main themes (Improve, Health, Learn, and Innovate)?
Emma: We wanted to choose categories that were broad enough to allow for a full range of topics yet clear enough to be easily navigable. Maybe one homeowner is looking for quick and inexpensive things to do to help save energy at home, and another is building a new home and wants to explore state-of-the-art efficiency technologies. This site can help both of them.
Becky: We also wanted to emphasize health and safety especially, because some people don’t realize how much they interact with efficiency. Energy efficiency upgrades to your home and appliances can often protect from complex problems like gas spillage and improve your home’s indoor air quality.
Do you envision continuing to add to the website in the future?
Danielle: Yes, it is a living website! We will continue to expand on topics in various formats (such as videos, diagrams, additional topics) and update information as it becomes outdated — energy efficiency is an ever-changing field.
How does Home Energy Hub fit into CEE’s nonprofit mission?
Becky: Sharing knowledge is at the core of CEE’s mission to promote energy efficiency. Home Energy Hub exemplifies this by helping get quality, unbiased information out to homeowners. We are a data-driven organization — research, data, and field expertise are the foundation of the website’s content. Additionally, homes and residents are a big part of the work we do (both as an organization and more broadly in the context of statewide energy efficiency efforts), and by creating this website, we wanted to highlight the important role they play.