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Report: As Home Heating Costs Shrink, Electronics Eat the Savings

Posted by Matt Power, Editor-In-Chief

Jan 4, 2017 3:33:03 PM

Builders have raised the bar already. Now it's time to show those electronics foot draggers how to reach net-zero nirvana.JohnMason.The E'cool'ogical Solar House.jpg

A NEW ANALYSIS from the DOE of energy use in new homes answers some of the most daunting questions about new home performance. Do bigger homes mean higher heating bills? Have better building practices compensated for more square footage.

The answer, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), is double-edged. First, since 2000, the average home has been 30% larger than homes built in the previous decade. But due to improvements in heating equipment and better building envelopes, they actually consume 21 percent LESS energy for space heating. That's great news. But wait, there's more.

"An average new home uses approximately 18% more energy than an older home for appliances, electronics and lighting, due to increased plug loads such as televisions, miscellaneous electronics, clothes washers, and clothes dryers."

The report also notes that the majority of new homes (53%) are being built in temperate climates, compared with only 35% in the past.This trend is relevant, and perhaps positive, because of weather shifts related to Climate Change. New climate models suggest that the Southern U.S. could experience severe cold on a regular basis, putting people in older, uninsulated homes at risk.

Takeaway for Builders

The takeaway for the building industry (and makers of heating and cooling equipment) from this report is that they're doing a damn fine job improving the quality and performance of new homes. Say what you will about the slow pace at which homebuilders change their ways, the fact that they've been able to outpace heating demands despite the often overconsumptive tastes of their clients demonstrates real professionalism under fire. Many builders have gone about as far as they can toward creating net zero homes with better wall envelopes and insulated foundations and mini-split HVAC. 

The problem is that the electronics and appliance industries keep adding new toys for the giant toyboxes. Sure, we're making gains on LED lighting and LED televisions, but when you put six televisions in a 4,000-sq. ft. house, you negate the savings over an older home. Then there's the ongoing problem of phantom power devices. Set top devices, clocks, ovens, microwaves, washer dryers and even many "smart" devices draw a constant trickle of power, despite years to make the necessary product changes.

Let's assume the gadget makers continue to drag their feet. Why wait for them? Builders can take the high ground now, and make sure EVERY new home is net zero. The way to do that is to make sure that onsite power production exceeds demand. And the way to do it most affordably and efficiently is to combine smart building management with solar, or smart plus solar systems in every project.

This is the next, logical step in the green building pyramid, once the major sticks and bricks of building science have been addressed, New wireless technology in the form of thermstats, sensors, and smartphone-enabled controls can optimizes energy consumption and balance power produced on site (from PV, wind or other renewable source) with demands of the residents.

Photo: John Mason (E'cool'ogical Solar House, Montreal)

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