Energy Efficiency

, Volume 11, Issue 8, pp 2017–2032 | Cite as

Cool or school?: the role of building attributes in explaining residential energy burdens in California

  • Hal T. NelsonEmail author
  • Nick Gebbia
Original Article


This paper quantifies the dimensions of an important energy efficiency conversation: the energy burden of low-income households. Due to budgetary constraints, low-income households face a stark consumption trade-offs described as “cool or school”. This study is the first to apply multivariate building energy regression modeling to assess the independent effects of various building characteristics and appliances on a household’s energy burden in the USA. We find that more attic insulation and newer air conditioners significantly predict lower energy burdens. Furthermore, homeowners enjoy ~ 27% more attic insulation compared to renters. Our results offer empirical support for programs that offer deep retrofits to low-income households. We conclude by offering suggestions for leveraging weatherization funding to fund building energy retrofits.


Energy consumption Energy conservation Energy efficiency policy Policy implementation Weatherization Housing Poverty Social justice 



American Reinvestment and Recovery Act


Demand side management


Home energy renovation Opportunity




Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program


Property assessed clean energy


Residential Appliance Saturation Survey


Single family residence


Weatherization Assistance Program



We would like to thank the participants in the 2014 Western Political Science Association annual meeting for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. This research was partially funded under California Energy Commission Public Interest Energy Research grant # 57356A/11-1. The sponsors played no part in the study design; collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; writing of the article; or the decision to submit for publication.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Pomona CollegeClaremontUSA

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