In defense of big houses

A recent report for the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that big is not as bad for the electrical grid as you might think — maybe even not bad at all, particularly when modern building technologies are at work.

Analysis from EIA's most recent "Residential Energy Consumption Survey" (RECS) shows that U.S. homes built since 2000 consume only 2% more energy on average than homes built prior to 2000, despite being on average 30% larger.

Homes built in the 2000s accounted for about 14% of all occupied housing units in 2009. These new homes consumed 21% less energy for space heating on average than older homes (see graph), which is mainly because of increased efficiency in the form of heating equipment and better building shells built to more demanding energy codes. Geography has played a role too. About 53% of newer homes are in the more temperate South, compared with only 35% of older homes.

The increase in energy for air conditioning also reflects this population migration, as well as higher use of central air conditioning and increased square footage. Similar to space heating, these gains were likely moderated by increases in efficiency of cooling equipment and improved building shells, but air conditioning was not the only end use that was higher in newer homes. RECS data show that newer homes were more likely than older homes to have dishwashers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, and two or more refrigerators. Newer homes, with their larger square footage, have more computers; TVs; and TV peripherals, such as digital video recorders (DVRs) and video game systems. In total, newer homes consumed about 18% more energy on average in 2009 for appliances, electronics and lighting than older homes.