Home Size & Energy Use

Who among us has chosen one appliance over another because it is Energy Star certified? We feel a sense of pride when we make such a noble choice for the environment, or, you know, for our wallets. A lot of gains have been made in energy efficiency of household appliances and building materials. Modern household appliances are not only two times more energy efficient than 30 years ago, they are also cheaper than before, which means the average American has to work fewer hours to afford the appliance.

Pew Home Size Chart

 Impressive, right? We must be conserving so much energy! Wrong.

Despite our best of intentions, I was recently sent an article that said in spite of increased energy efficiency, U.S. home size trends have cancelled out energy gains! New homes have nearly 1,000 more square feet than they had in 1973.

Single Fam Home Size by Census Division

 As far as square footage goes, our homes are much more energy efficient per square foot than they used to be, however as home size increases, there is more space to heat, to cool, and to light. We also use more items that need to be plugged in than we did 30 years ago. Having said all this, keep in mind that very large new houses, those bigger than 4,000 square feet, have been making up a larger percentage of new homes built, while the market for new smaller homes, those less than 1,400 square feet, has decreased by 5% since 2005.

In addition to the size of homes working against the energy gains made by more efficient building products and appliances, homeowners are not necessarily using those energy efficient appliances optimally. Raise your hand if you have programmed your thermostat. (My hands are still firmly on my keyboard, as likely many readers’ are too.) The US EPA actually stopped offering Energy Star ratings to programmable thermostats in 2009 because so many consumers were not programming them. Smart thermostats such as Nest take the responsibility of programming off of the consumer by learning the consumer’s habits and programming themselves.

So where do we go from here?

If you are interested in staying put in your square footage, but becoming savvier about energy usage, try putting some energy saving tips to use. You can start by performing an energy audit on your home. There are also appliance energy calculators that can help you determine where your energy use is really going. The Internet of Things has also given us the gift of smart plugs, such as those from Ankuoo, Belkin, and ThinkEco, that monitor energy usage.

If you are feeling spry, you can also jump on a bandwagon: tiny houses. Tiny houses are typically between 100-400 square feet, as compared to the average 2,600 square footage of a traditional house. These houses make it easier to be more energy efficient by employing things such as a lofted bed to take advantage of rising heat, using a heating element instead of instant water heater, LED only lights, and low-flow water appliances. Harvard’s Millennial Housing Lab built three 160 square foot tiny houses and rents them to prospective tiny house dwellers, so they can be tried for size before the commitment is made to own. There is also a tiny house hotel in Portland (keep Portland weird), built with the idea of “try before you buy” in mind. Check out NAR Library’s Field Guide to the Small House Movement for more information.

Let us know what tactics you have taken in your home to be more energy efficient!

Keep in touch and informed: Follow Information Services on Twitter (@asknar) and Facebook (NAR Information Services). Contact us next time you have a research project or question toll-free at 800.874.6500, informationservices@realtors.org, Skype narinfoservices, or text AskNAR to 66746.

Abby Creitz

Manager, NAR Library & REALTOR® University Librarian

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