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Location Efficiency and Housing Type—Boiling it Down to BTUs

Executive Summary

The purpose of this white paper is to create a well-supported yet simple illustration of the relationship between household energy consumption and residential development patterns. For the purpose of this illustration, residential development patterns are generally described by housing location and housing type. The paper also takes into account energy efficiency measures in homes and vehicles as factors that aff ect household energy use.

Housing that is located in a walkable neighborhood near public transit, employment centers, schools, and other amenities allows residents to drive less and thereby reduces transportation costs. Development in such locations is deemed to be “location efficient,” given a more compact design, higher-density construction, and/ or inclusion of a diverse mix of uses. If American families can reduce their necessity to drive through better housing and transportation options, then commute times and household energy costs will drop. This paper illustrates how housing location and proximity to transit is a major variable for household energy consumption.

Housing type also has a major impact on energy consumption and household costs. Residents in multifamily and single family attached homes in higher density neighborhoods usually use less electricity per unit and drive less than residents of low-density areas. Multifamily and single-family attached homes generally have smaller square footage per unit and shared walls, thus requiring less energy for heating and cooling than their detached counterparts. This paper illustrates how housing type is a variable for household energy consumption.

This paper also takes into account the impact that energy effi cient building and transportation technology can have in further reducing household energy consumption and costs. Use of energy efficient design and fuel efficient vehicles has a notable impact on reduction of household energy use.

Energy consumption data, collected as broad national averages, were examined for housing location, type, and transportation variables and translated into BTUs (British Thermal Units) of energy in order to illustrate the relative diff erences in energy consumption. Use of national averages, by defi nition, aggregates information for wider relevance and application. It does not, therefore, allow for the fi ne-grain analysis that more location-specifi c, in-depth studies of any of the variables in this white paper would yield. Indeed, one anticipated outcome of this paper is to encourage further, more detailed study that is geographically specifi c. However, given the purpose of this paper and its intended use for a national audience, the patterns that emerged from the national averages are sufficient, and in fact necessarily broad, to illustrate the relationship between housing location, type, and energy consumption.

This study illustrates two key points about the eff ect 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 signifi cant savings on home energy and transportation costs.
  2. Housing type is also a very signifi cant determinant of energy consumption. Fairly substantial diff erences are seen in detached versus attached homes, but the most striking diff erence is the variation in energy use between single-family detached homes and multifamily homes, due to the inherent effi ciencies 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 signifi cant as the housing location and type.