Smaller isn’t always greener: why aren’t American homes more efficient?
Average American homes today are using essentially the same amount of energy per year as they were in 1970s – which seems odd, given the improvement of heating systems and household appliances, and a heightened emphasis on energy conservation. So how are we still using so much?
A new Energy Information Administration (EIA) survey gives several answers — we have more access to air conditioners and homes are larger across the board. The study also shows that consumer electronics detract from attempts to make homes energy-efficient, and detract from efficiency gains of major appliances. Almost half of American homes have at least one computer, 88% of American homes have two or more televisions, and nearly every home has 1-3 rechargeable electronic devices. Even if our appliances are increasingly energy efficient, we own enough of them to offset that efficiency.
Having smaller or more efficient devices does not that mean we are going to automatically be more energy efficient – though it may feel that way. Newer technology does not always mean more green – the study notes, for example, that DVR players, which use more energy per unit than DVD or VCR players, are currently used by over 40% of those surveyed and are replacing the use of those lower-energy using players. Attempts to go green are often hampered by advances in quality of life and access to resources. Should we be inhibiting this kind of access to save energy? That’s neither feasible or desirable. What we can do is see our energy usage as a balancing act.
The EIA survey shows clearly how much energy efficiency is in the hand of consumer choices. Even if more and more efficient electronics and appliances are developed, consumers are the only ones who can consider if their cell-phones are beating out their three-pane windows.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.