Image credit: EPA. click to enlarge
Kaid Benfield, Alex Wilson and others including myself have been making this argument for a while: where you live matters more for energy consumption than what you live in. Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirms it in a new study prepared with the Jonathan Rose Companies:
The paper finds that a home's location and access to transit -- in other words, its location efficiency -- are as important to reducing energy use as are energy-efficiency measures in homes and cars.
The study also confirms the importance of housing type- that the single family home is an energy hog compared to row housing or multi-family housing.
This study illustrates two key points about the effect of compact, location efficient development on energy consumption:
1. A home's location relative to transportation choices has a large impact on energy consumption. People who live in a more compact, transit-accessible area have more housing and transportation choices compared to those who live in spread-out developments where few or no transportation options exist besides driving. Choosing to live in an area with transportation options not only reduces energy consumption, it also can result in significant savings on home energy and transportation costs.
2. Housing type is also a very significant determinant of energy consumption. Fairly substantial differences are seen in detached versus attached homes, but the most striking difference is the variation in energy use between single-family detached homes and multifamily homes, due to the inherent efficiencies from more compact size and shared walls among units. Moderate energy-efficient building technologies, such as those qualifying for Energy Star performance, also generate household energy savings that are notable but not as significant as the housing location and type.
If there is was justice in this world, legislators in favor of energy independence and and reducing fossil fuel usage would just stop low density suburban development right now, invest in transit and the intensification of what we have now.
It's right there: drive a Prius and insulate your single family home and you can cut your energy consumption by 34%. Go for an efficient multifamily home and car in a transit friendly area and you cut your energy 64%
And more importantly, look closely at that top graph; note that dark grey bar, the transportation energy use. That's gasoline, the stuff we get from the Middle East and the tar sands. The consumption in a multifamily residence in a transit oriented development is a quarter of the amount consumed by the single family detached house in a conventional suburban development.
So lets stop pretending that green suburban single family houses filled with Energy Star fridges are going to make much of a difference at all, it is just tinkering around the edges when the big gains are in systemic change.
The data show what we have to do: Get urban and get transit. Thank you, EPA, for putting it so clearly in green and white.