An experiment at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, has shown that energy efficient buildings, combined with a few lifestyle changes, can save thousands per year in utility bills and recoup initial construction costs in a few years.
In September 2000, Frank Powell, co-founder of Furman’s Center for Habitat Earth, recruited eight conservation-minded women to live in a retrofitted “eco-dorm” that includes low-flow showerheads and toilets and a 2.5-kilowatt photovoltaic array that provides 680 kilowatts of pollution-free electricity per day. Next door, in an identical building without the retrofit, eight women made no concerted effort to conserve. An eight-month comparison of utility bills found that the first group saved $135 per month in electricity and water usage—about $1,620 per year. The women in the retrofitted dorm used 70 percent less electricity and 40 percent less water than the control group.
“The real benefit lies in the behavioral changes that have occurred in the women of the eco-cottage,” says Powell. “They’ll move into other Furman residences this fall, and you can bet they’ll be sensitive to the earth’s resources.” Powell adds that retrofitting all the university’s residence halls would save $300,000 per year in energy consumption.