Big homes are back but with one major difference: they’re more energy efficient than ever before.
Americans love big. Big cars, big houses… big is good… until all of a sudden it’s not. A combination of skyrocketing oil and energy prices, along with a downturn in the economy suddenly made the average American consumer think about downsizing everything from cars to homes. And so homes got smaller, about 5% smaller from 2007 to 2010, and less became more.
Until the economy improved. Now big homes are back but with one major difference: they’re more energy efficient than ever before. How can this be, you ask. How can larger homes not be bad for owners’ energy bills, and not be bad for the environment? After all, don’t they need more energy to run? And don’t they generate more greenhouse gases? The short answer is no. Thanks to new energy-saving measures, efficiency gains of more than 70% are now offsetting the rise in energy usage that would normally result from the increasing size of American homes. And, when you take energy intensity (energy used per square foot) into account, the numbers are even more impressive: energy intensity in 2009 was 37% lower than in 1980. That means a significant overall reduction in the use of coal, natural gas and nuclear fuel.
So how is it that newer, bigger houses consume less energy than smaller older ones? It starts with technology – more energy efficient technologies to be specific. This includes ENERGY STAR qualified appliances and electronics, energy efficient lighting and improved energy-saving HVAC systems. Factor into that better insulation, and improved home thermal enclosures and voila! All of a sudden, you’ve got a larger home that’s more energy efficient than a smaller, older dwelling.
The benefits of living in an energy efficient home are manifold. They cost less to run, which means lower utility bills; they are more comfortable to live in and therefore healthier; and energy efficient homes generally command higher resale values.
To learn how energy efficient your home is, contact a certified RESNET Home Energy Auditor for an energy audit. Energy audits show you where and how your home is losing energy (and money), and auditors can provide cost-effective solutions to these problems.
One key point not mentioned in this article about larger homes is the environmental impact of the home’s construction and ongoing maintenance. This is where the devil really is in the details. While figures vary wildly, building the home accounts for at least 11 percent of its lifetime embodied energy footprint over its lifespan. Some estimates put it much higher. That’s the environmental cost of material extraction, transportation and manufacture. But another often overlooked impact is that of ongoing maintenance. A home with carpet flooring, a 15-year shingle roof and wood siding will need frequent maintenance, and carpets and acrylic paint, especially, have a large embodied energy footprint. So before you opt for the bigger floorplan, evaluate the building materials you will use from a durability standpoint. In my opinion, every house over about 1,500 sq. ft. should have composite, metal or clay tile roofing, cementitious, brick, faux stone or stucco siding, hardwood or tile floors, LED lighting, high SEER heating/cooling, and a host of other high-performance features, not just a grand floorplan. —Matt Power, Editor-In-Chief
This content was originally published by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) here. This content has been republished with the permission of RESNET. RESNET is the independent, national nonprofit organization that homeowners trust to improve home energy efficiency and realize substantial savings on their utility bills. RESNET’s industry-leading standards are recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.