In an article for CityLab, writer Aarian Marshall examines the conflict between energy efficiency and house size.
There is no doubt that there have been tremendous improvements in energy efficiency in the last several decades. Marshall shares some numbers:
Based on preliminary numbers from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. homes used just under 150,000 British thermal units (Btu) of energy per square foot in 1970; by 2012, that number had dropped to 101,800 Btu. That’s a pretty exciting 31% reduction in energy consumption per square foot, after adjusting for weather and improvements in generating electricity.
However, Pew Research Center’s Drew DeSilver points out that may not be as impressive as it sounds. He points that out that energy intensity, or the units of energy expended per household, has actually increased since the early 1980s, with the average home using 183 million Btu in 1981 and 188.7 million in 2011.
One major culprit is house size. American single-family homes have more than doubled in square footage in the last four decades.