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Poll Reveals Eco-Disconnect

Oakland homeowners are more interested in costly ways to green their homes than cheaper, practical solutions.

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Oakland residents appear to have a strong interest in cutting-edge environmental conservation and energy efficiency measures for their homes, according to a recent poll. However, the poll, conducted by Greening Oakland Homes, also reveals an apparent gap between what homeowners were most interested in and what's practical to actually do to make their houses greener.

For example, 68 percent of homeowners said they were "very interested" in grey-water and rainwater collection for their houses and 62 percent were very interested in solar power. But far fewer respondents expressed the same interest in upgrading to more energy-efficient furnaces (24 percent), low-flow toilets (33 percent), or low-flow showers (27 percent).

Although many residents may have already implemented these cheaper and easier eco-friendly solutions, the poll appears to indicate that respondents' strong interest in expensive greening projects may be the result of what they read in the newspaper or online or see on television. "Anything that's been promoted is clearly influencing people's answers," said researcher Debby Richman, who conducted the survey.

Richman found the survey participants through multiple sources, but most were part of a group of volunteers for Montclair Community Action who had previously done phone banking for the Obama campaign. Although Richman acknowledges that this is not an entirely representative group, she believes the survey results are still a good starting point for understanding the interests of Oakland homeowners.

For example, Richman speculated that the strong interest in weather stripping, leak detection, and energy-efficient windows may be because a lot of Oakland homes are old and drafty. Nonetheless, homeowners sometimes ignore smaller, cheaper things they can do to lessen their environmental footprint after they discover how costly some eco-upgrades are. "People assume this is very expensive to do so they just don't do anything," Richman noted.

Still, Greening Oakland Homes Director Laura Andersen said she was pleased and surprised about how many respondents said they were "very interested" in home-energy audits — 54 percent. One of the missions of Greening Oakland Homes, which is conducting outreach at local street fairs, is to make sure homeowners are aware of how to access auditing services, and which things they can check themselves. "Energy and water conservation is often all about finding the energy and water leaks and doing some basic things to improve conservation," Andersen explained.

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