Americans conserving big on home electricity

Americans conserving big on home electricity

Americans conserving big on home electricity
American homes are getting greener, like this one in Minnesota

by Jonathan Fahey, The Associated Press

NEW YORK – The average amount of electricity consumed in U.S. homes has fallen to levels last seen more than a decade ago, back when the smartest device in people’s pockets was a Palm pilot and anyone talking about a tablet was probably an archaeologist or a preacher.

Because of more energy-efficient housing, appliances and gadgets, power usage is on track to decline in 2013 for the third year in a row, to its lowest point since 2001, even though our lives are more electrified.

Here’s a look at what has changed since the last time consumption was so low.

Better homes

In the early 2000s, as energy prices rose, more states adopted or toughened building codes to force builders to better seal homes so heat or air-conditioned air doesn’t seep out so fast. That means newer homes waste less energy.

Also, insulated windows and other building technologies have dropped in price, making retrofits of existing homes more affordable. In the wake of the financial crisis, billions of dollars in Recovery Act funding was directed toward home-efficiency programs.

Better Gadgets

Big appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners have gotten more efficient thanks to federal energy standards that get stricter ever few years as technology evolves.

A typical room air conditioner — one of the biggest power hogs in the home — uses 20 per cent less electricity per hour of full operation than it did in 2001, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

Central air conditioners, refrigerators, dishwashers, water heaters, washing machines and dryers also have gotten more efficient.

Other devices are using less juice, too. Some 40-inch (1-meter) LED televisions bought today use 80 per cent less power than the cathode ray tube televisions of the past. Some use just $8 worth of electricity over a year when used five hours a day — less than a 60-watt incandescent bulb would use.

Those incandescent light bulbs are being replaced with compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs that use 70 to 80 per cent less power. According to the Energy Department, widespread use of LED bulbs could save output equivalent to that of 44 large power plants by 2027.

The move to mobile also is helping. Desktop computers with big CRT monitors are being replaced with laptops, tablet computers and smart phones, and these mobile devices are specifically designed to sip power to prolong battery life.

It costs $1.36 to power an iPad for a year, compared with $28.21 for a desktop computer, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

On the other hand…

We are using more devices, and that is offsetting what would otherwise be a more dramatic reduction in power consumption.

DVRs spin at all hours of the day, often under more than one television in a home. Game consoles are getting more sophisticated to process better graphics and connect with other players, and therefore use more power.

More homes have central air conditioners instead of window units. They are more efficient, but people use them more often.

Still, Jennifer Amman, the buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says she is encouraged.

“It’s great to see this movement, to see the shift in the national numbers,” she says.

[quote]I expect we’ll see greater improvement over time. There is so much more that can be done.[/quote]

The Energy Department predicts average residential electricity use per customer will fall again in 2014, by 1 per cent.

Jonathan Fahey can be reached at


5 thoughts on “Americans conserving big on home electricity

  1. That’s good news!

    I bought some 60 Watt equivalent LED lights to replace the incandescent ones in the kitchen. The old ones burned very hot in the closed fixtures, so no higher wattage could go in there.

    With my camera, I took a reading of the light reflected off a piece of paper: 1/15th of a second, F/4.5 and ISO 800 with the old incandescents.

    The new LEDs should have been equivalent — but were actually brighter. 2x as bright, according to my camera: 1/30th of a second (twice as quick) with the other settings the same. They are instant on and claim to be LONG lasting. They also operate at a lukewarm temperature… using about 1/6 what a 60 Watt old-school bulb uses.

    Light temperature is in the “soft white” range, so a slight yellow cast, which is close to old-school colours.

    However: old-school Christmas lights haven’t been beaten yet, as far as I’m concerned. The LEDs look dim and blurry. More to be done there…

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