EPA: Energy Efficiency Is About Location, Location, Location

Where we live has an enormous impact on energy use, according to new research commissioned by the EPA. The report, “Location Efficiency and Housing Type — Boiling It Down to BTUs” finds that Americans use far less energy if they live in an apartment building in a transit-oriented neighborhood than if they live in a detached suburban house, even if that house has green building features and sports fuel-efficient cars in the driveway.

When it comes to this report, a picture’s worth a thousand words. As the graph above shows, the biggest energy efficiency gains come from living in transit-oriented neighborhoods.

A household living in a single family detached house located in a typical sprawl development uses an average of 240 million BTU (British Thermal Units, a unit of energy output) of energy a year, while the same household would only use 147 million BTU if the exact same house were located in a compact neighborhood. Make that single family house an apartment and energy use is down to 93 million BTU.

“While energy efficiency measures in homes and vehicles can make a notable improvement in consumption, the impact is considerably less dramatic than the gains possible offered by housing type and location efficiency,” the authors write. The ideal solution, of course, is to combine smart growth with green technology.

The report serves as a high-level rebuke to those who dismiss the importance of smart growth for curbing energy use, a point of view that was reinforced by a recent report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. While putting a stop to the country’s many sprawl-inducing policies may not be easy, the EPA’s numbers show it’s necessary.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Lousy Neighborhoods, Not Lax Zoning, Make Sunbelt Houses Cheaper

|
The middle class is getting priced out of liberal cities, while red-state urban areas remain affordable. Does that mean our cities should be less like tightly regulated San Francisco and more like permissive Houston? It’s a common argument — but it doesn’t fit the facts. To start with, Houston is hardly a paradise of deregulation. In practice, local experts explain, […]

New Jersey Squanders Transit By Surrounding Stations With Sprawl

|
New Jersey is the most population-dense state in the country, and many residents get to work via one of its several transit systems. But too many of New Jersey’s transit stations are surrounded by single-family housing, severely limiting the number of people — especially low-income people — with convenient, walkable access to transit. Some entire transit lines […]

The True Cost of Gasoline, and What to Do About Energy

|
The news media has been writing a lot about energy and oil addiction lately.  One particularly noteworthy package of reporting highlights the hidden problems of oil addiction. Another searches for ways it could be alleviated but misses the most critical one. The first is The Chicago Tribune’s enormously important four-part series by Pulitzer-winning reporter Paul Salopek […]

Livable Streets or Tall Buildings? Cities Can Have Both

|
Kaid Benfield’s new blog post on density is getting a lot of buzz over at NRDC’s Switchboard blog. Benfield, a planner/lawyer/professor/writer who co-founded both LEED’s Neighborhood Development rating system and the Smart Growth America coalition, has some serious street cred when it comes to these matters. And on this one, he’s with Danish architect Jan Gehl, […]