US Home Energy Efficiency Improved Since 1970, So Why Are The Bills The Same?

1970s livingroom photo

Photo via army.arch via Flickr Creative Commons

We've come a long way, baby. Maybe in energy efficiency of products, but not in reducing our energy use. A new study shows that despite our advances in technology for appliances from refrigerators to televisions -- technology that has helped cut the energy consumption of appliances by as much as half -- we still consume as much energy as we did in the early 1970s. That's right, we haven't budged on how much our meters read at the end of each month, despite our refrigerators using about 51% less electricity. Why? Because our homes are bigger, and we buy more stuff that requires energy to function. So the benefits of our improved technology is washed out by our love of our new technology. Knowing the improvements are a wash, what does that means for energy conservation over the next 40 years?Experts say that our big houses and power-hungry gadgets negate all our efficiency gains, reports The Washington Post. If we've made progress in one area only to have it canceled out in another, can we expect to make any real gains over the next 40 years? Quite possibly. It seems we've hit a point where there's only so much house a person cares to have, and only so many things we care to own. We're seeing trends towards smaller houses, all-in-one electronics, and monitoring how much energy our homes consume. Perhaps we've hit a plateau of sorts.

While manufacturers are busy doing the work for us in minimizing how much energy our electronics need to run, we need to start doing the hard work on using the electronics we do have a lot less. According to the article, residences are responsible for 22% of the energy used in the US, with electricity use rising from 23% of an average household's energy use in 1978 to 42% in 2005.

Would increasing the visibility of how much energy a product or household uses make a difference? It seems to be the case, according to research that shows households cut their energy use between 5-15% without even trying once they begin using a home energy monitor. More and more companies are putting out products from the Kill-A-Watt to the more advanced Agilewaves system to help home and business owners trim back the dial. Indeed, smart meters that allow home owners to see their energy consumption in real time is a significant component of the smart grid.

The fact is, we have to dial back how much we use. We can't rely on new energy efficient technology to do the work for us. It doesn't mean we have to hand wash our clothes and send messenger pigeons to deliver texts, but it does mean we have to recognize when we have all we need to make our lives run well, and enough is enough. Yes, we have to take smart measures like weatherizing homes so that the energy used heating and cooling a house is minimized, but more importantly, we have to quit using stuff. Combining energy efficient technology with an energy conservationist attitude is the key. This study really serves to underscore that point. We've come a long way with technology, and it's time to use it wisely to make progress.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this
More on Home Energy Efficiency
The Potential, and the Pit Falls, of Energy Efficiency (Video)
How Much Energy Can a Gadget Minimalist Save?
The Power Monitor: Top Tools for Watching Your Home Energy Use

Related Content on