How a 'smiley face' can cut fuel bills by £80 a year

CityWest Homes has taken part in an exciting, national study. Residents were involved in the Sustainable Homes National Energy Study, and the results have shown the power behind a smile.

The study investigated the impact of feeding back to participants on their energy use. Results showed that this had a huge impact on people’s behavioural patterns. When given regular feedback over time, participants changed their energy habits and cut down on their energy use. This produced average savings of nearly £80 per year on combined gas and electricity bills. The carbon footprint was also reduced. The reduction in energy use by the participants was substantial and it is estimated that if the rest of the UK population made the same changes, the country could reduce carbon output by as much as 2.7m tonnes per year.

Feedback was partly delivered through texts, using simple emoticons. Participants received a ‘smiley face’ when their energy use was low. When energy use was high, a ‘sad face’ was delivered.

Psychologists have speculated that people’s motivation to save money is trumped by that of seeking approval, or the desire to ‘fit in’. This could help explain the effect of the emoticons.

The report comes at a time when cutting fuel bills is a hot topic in the UK. Peter Armfield, sustainability manager at CityWest Homes said: “We’re really keen to find ways that will help our residents afford their energy bills more easily. This study has shown that people often don’t know they are high energy users and learning how much their neighbours use is useful. By teaching people to use their heating controls more efficiently, they can heat their homes just as much as before, but with less energy.”

Andrew Eagles, managing director of Sustainable Homes, who conducted the study, said: “These findings will be of great interest to anyone concerned with cutting energy bills, which, of course, is most of us. We know that people are always keen to save money. What this study uncovers is that their natural desire for approval is at least as important and probably more so. Nearly one third of the UK’s emissions come from homes, and the results have implications for the roll-out of smart meters in the UK. They suggest we would be missing a trick if we did not take people’s real motivations into account with a simple and cheap method like this when we try and reduce household energy consumption.”

The study showed that ultimately feedback works. While different types can vary in effectiveness, any feedback seems to be better than none. For example, all participants who received feedback used less gas, while those who didn’t receive any feedback used more. The survey also demonstrated a huge variation in participant’s level of energy use, without any obvious explanation. This suggests that there could be some ‘quick wins’ if people are given advice and feedback on saving energy.

The full report can be downloaded from The study was made in conjunction with 14 housing associations and over 500 households around the country, with the support of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It was conducted over six months, from October 2013 to March 2014.

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