Saturday, May 24, 2008

One Guy's Tips for Reducing Home Energy Consumption

I came across this article recently in Mother Earth News: "Easy Projects for Instant Energy Savings". In it the author, Gary Reysa, offers the eight best projects you can do around the home to increase your energy savings. Using just these eight tips, his family was able to reduce their electric usage by more than half. It would be well worth your time to check out the article, as well as Gary's own website, for lots of useful information.

But something about the article rubbed me the wrong way. It was the fact that he was missing the Number 1 Tip for Reducing Home Energy Use: MOVE TO A SMALLER HOUSE. (If it seems like I'm shouting that's because I am.) Let's look at his numbers. In the article he states that he was able to reduce his household energy use from 93,000 kWh per year to just 38,000 kWh. Quite a reduction, but I'm distracted by his numbers more than anything. Ninety-three thousand kilowatts! How is that even possible? I added up my electric usage for the past twelve months and it was 9,305 kWh. And I have electric heat. He never states anywhere in his article the square footage of his house, but I have to imagine that it's at least ten times the size of mine. How else do you get an electric bill of that magnitude?

Who needs a house that's ten times bigger than mine? A polygamous sect, maybe, but not the average family.

And even his reduced energy usage (38,000 kWh) sounds obscene to me. In the article he boasts about how he's reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (two pounds of carbon dioxide for every one kWh). That's 55 tons of CO2 emissions he's keeping out of the atmosphere every year (see footnote). Bravo, of course. But on the flip-side, he's still contributing 38 tons of CO2 per year. How can that be a good thing?

My intention is not to make Mr. Reysa look like a bad guy. He obviously wants to make a difference. It's commendable that he is sharing what he's learned with so many others, through this article and through all of the information available on his website. I sincerely applaud what he's doing. But I want to ensure that the bigger picture doesn't get lost.

House sizes in the U.S. have increased dramatically since the 1970s. According to the Census Bureau, the average new home in 2005 was 2434 square feet, up 46.6% from 1660 square feet in 1973. Even if you want to buy a smaller home, they're getting harder and harder to find. Builders aren't building small homes anymore. And in the old town centers around here, the cute old cottages are being scraped off and replaced by oversized monstrosities that look ridiculous on their tiny lots.

Perhaps our current economic woes and the mortgage fiasco will help reverse the trend towards larger and larger houses, but don't count on it. The building industry has convinced us we need: a living room and a family room and a game room; an eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room and maybe throw in a breakfast nook; four or five bedrooms for a family of four; a home office; a home-theater room; and a five-piece master bath with walk-in closets. Until we let go of the kind of thinking that has us saying "Okay" to all of this nonsense, builders will keep producing it. It's up to us as individuals to demand responsible housing options and persevere until we get them.

Footnote: After writing this I noticed some inconsistencies with the figures. In the Mother Earth News article the author claims only to have reduced his CO2 emissions by 17 tons (on his website he says 18 tons and his other figures are a little different too). Yet by my calculations based on 2 pounds of CO2 for every one kWh (a figure he cites in his article and which I confirmed to be true, albeit as a rough estimate since it varies from power plant to power plant) he should have reduced his emissions by 55 tons.


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  2. I usually had nightmare thinking americans are more materialistic people on earth. You made that wrong. Keep up the neat job.