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Home energy use gets a 'smackdown' on reality TV

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Because a winner would be determined by which family could reduce their footprint the most, "We thought we'd be losers right off the bat, because we were already at our limit of what we can do," says Steve Lanou, Mieke's husband.

To improve their prospects, Team van der Nou decided to make a list of potential small changes, combining their own ideas and the suggestions of an energy auditor from their energy provider (a service most utilities provide free of charge – ask your local utility company).

"One thing that the auditor pointed out that was a real 'Aha!' moment for us was the fireplace," Mieke says. They typically left the fireplace flue open, which they learned was like leaving a window open.

Their energy company also donated a power-cost monitor (price: about $150), a small device that is wirelessly connected to their electric meter. It's so simple to use that even their young daughter Anneke can demonstrate it.

"Here it shows how much energy we're using," Anneke says, pointing to the digital display of 0.4 kilowatts per hour, the lowest reading. Then she clicks on the price-conversion button and says, "And here is how much that costs." The lowest meter reading is only 0.4 kilowatts an hour, and the energy auditor told them that now they are actually below that baseline.

"Whenever we see it's above 0.4, we walk around the house to see if we left a light on or see what's going on," Steve says. This diligence has helped the family cut their electricity use in half from the corresponding month the previous year.

In contrast, the energy auditor who visited Team Moot-Roosa said the family had their work cut out for them when it came to decreasing their energy footprint given their 1910, drafty, 4,000-square-foot home and ­minivan-dependent lifestyle. Both parents work in neighboring towns, while the two children are dropped off at independent schools.

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