Success reality vs. success perception.

Two steps forward, one step back. Or the other way around, however you choose to look at it.

So, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy the two most significant trends when it comes to homes are these.

One, is that, on a per square foot basis, they're massively more energy efficient than they used to be, and getting better all the time.

The other is, well, that that doesn't mean a helluva lot, because the gains on the per-square-foot yardstick are being largely offset by the trend in expanding square footage, period. New homes, at averages of well over 2,600-square feet, are a full 50% larger than they were in the 1980s.

We're, creatures who cut down trees to make paper so that we can write, "save the trees" on that paper.

This Pew Research analysis from Drew DeSilver looks at the data on both sides of the trend spectrum and concludes:

Pew Research analysis of US Census data on home size trends.

What all of this means is that, after dropping sharply during the 1970s, the overall energy intensity of U.S. homes has changed little over the past three decades. Energy intensity is a metric that compares the amount of energy used against some unit of economic activity – households, in the case of the residential sector.

DeSilver goes on to note that where the big changes are in home energy use focus on keeping living spaces warm (in 1993, 53% of energy use went to heating, vs. 41% in 2009), and in running appliances (that same time span--1993 to 2009--energy to run appliances rose from 24% to almost 35% of total home energy use). Net, net, there is progress in efforts to reduce energy intensity in the U.S., but it's only very slight, especially given the strides in building envelope and other efficiency advances in both buildings and manufactured appliances. 

Bottom line is, we plug more items into power use, and use more juice, even as many purport to be concerned about excessive residential energy use and its impact on the climate. Pew notes that two-thirds of Americans say people will have to make major changes in the way they live to reduce the effects of global climate change.

Point here is that houses alone do not save or overuse energy. People do, and it may be that more powerful terms are necessary to convince individuals and households of their roles, choices, and responsibilities with respect to home energy use.


Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect, U.S. DOE Building Technologies Office, will be with us next Tuesday, Nov. 17, as a keynote wrap-up speaker at the BUILDER Sustainability Forum, at the Longview Gallery. He'll try to make a case that if we use words that have more meaning to people, they'll see their roles, choices, and responsibilities better than they do today.

Maybe then it will be two steps forward, and a half-step back.