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Too Big to Be Green

The energy costs of big houses on big lots overshadow the benefits of energy efficiency.
November 23, 2015, 5am PST | Emily Calhoun
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As we have reported here before, the built environment is the single largest consumer of materials, and these energy expenditures account for 42 percent of all greenhouse gasses emitted in the United States.

Even though "energy efficiency" has become a very popular consumer product since the environmental movement of the 1970s took off, American single-family houses have doubled in size since then, and they are full of much more energy-sapping stuff.  

"Energy intensity, or the units of energy expended per household, has actually increased since the early 1980s, with the average home using 183 million British thermal units (Btu) in 1981 and 188.7 million in 2011," reports Aarian Marshall.

Where there was once one TV in one modest living room, there are now many TVs in many rooms. Add to that laptops, robots, sound systems, security systems, heating and cooling systems and the myriad kitchen appliances and handy gadgets that accommodate modern life: it’s a lot of energy-hungry stuff.

Apartments and mobile homes, however, have made modest but significant declines in overall energy consumption. Since 1970, apartments with 2-5 units have decreased energy usage by five percent; apartments with five or more units have slashed 12 percent; and mobile home consumption is down eight percent.

Marshall warns: "Many Americans may still want a single-family home in the suburbs, but that’s not the path to an energy efficient future."

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Published on Monday, November 16, 2015 in CityLab
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