This article was originally published in the September/October 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1996



Is My Home's Energy Use Average?

Many of us have heard this question after reviewing a household's utility bills. It's natural for people to ask, because they want to be reassured that their actual behavior conforms with their expectations. Energy consumption-as reflected in utility bills-is one of the few situations where people's activities can be quantified. The reply is important. It will probably determine a person's attitude towards saving energy for years in the future, as he or she tries to make reality conform with perceptions.

It is tempting to reply, Your house uses a lot more energy than average and then watch the person consider your efficiency recommendations more seriously. But in some cases, people are simply trying to validate a previous investment, or perhaps their whole lifestyle. They want to be told that that their house consumes less energy than average. A positive answer will make them feel good and perhaps encourage them to do more.

Unfortunately, the answer is much more complicated than the question. This issue we review a book describing advanced, energy-efficient houses of the world (see p. 36). Here the researchers are asking, Is this house's energy use very much below average? Even with detailed instrumentation and surveys, there is no simple answer. Part of the reason is obvious: a house located above the Arctic Circle is likely to use more space heat than one in Florida. On the other hand, some houses use just a little bit of expensive electricity, while others consume considerably more inexpensive natural gas. Who is to say which is better? The commonplace house, with only a utility bill history and a brief audit, is even more challenging to evaluate.

So how do you answer the question? More than likely, your answer begins Given the size of your house..., or perhaps, If you figure in that three teenagers live here..., or maybe, For a 200-year-old house with a prewar furnace.... In each case, the response tries to take important factors into account, such as the house's size and other physical characteristics and the occupants and their lifestyles. There are both technical and psychological aspects to consider.

Home Energy Wants Your Input! But if you think this editorial is going to answer the question, guess again. This topic is too important (and complicated) to be resolved in one page. Instead, Home Energy plans to devote a long article to evaluating the energy efficiency of a home. We think we already know some answers, but we invite you-the people who actually hear the question Is my home's energy use average?-to tell us how you answer, and why. What factors do you consider when evaluating a household's energy use? Please write or e-mail us.


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