Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Big Homes, 1-Person Households are Main Causes of Consumer Energy Waste, Study Finds

/PRNewswire/ -- Changes in household size and home construction have been the main causes of over-consumption of energy by American consumers, according to a new study released today by SMR Research Corporation.

A reversal of these trends, SMR noted, would dramatically reduce U.S. energy use. Yet, household demographics and home building are seldom mentioned in the debates over global warming and energy independence.

SMR's study, Consumer Energy Spending And The Demographics Of Over-Consumption, is based on detailed interviews with more than 27,000 households.

Single-person households, which have grown at triple the rate of overall population growth since 1960, use 18.4% more energy per capita than two-person households do, SMR found. They use 52.8% more energy per capita than three-person households.

Even when excluding households with children, since they do not drive, per-capita energy use is far higher among single-person households than any others, SMR found.

SMR also found that people in houses with 10 or more rooms use 18.8% more energy than people in 8-room homes, and 31.3% more than people in 7-room homes -- regardless of the age of the home. The average square footage of newly built homes has increased by some 34% since 1980, SMR noted.

"This study shows that energy conservationists need a new public message," said SMR President Stuart A. Feldstein. "The old focus on things like home insulation and auto fleet mileage is incomplete. People who decide to live alone, now more than one of every four households, and people who buy the McMansions, are those who squander our energy resources."

The SMR study reviewed household spending on six major energy products: electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, heating oil, and bottled gas. Tables in the study show spending per household and per capita on all the products combined, as well as on each individual product, based on the demographic, financial, and housing characteristics of the interviewees.

Among other findings of the study:

-- Spending data belie the notion that the most educated consumers are
the most sensitive to energy conservation. Instead, people with
Master's degrees or higher spend more on energy per household and per
person than any others.

-- Energy spending per person rises along with incomes.

-- There is poor correlation between energy spending and the age of a
home, suggesting that by now, people in older homes have already taken
such steps as adding insulation. The housing characteristics that do
correlate powerfully with energy spending are size and value.

-- Household density is the key problem in over-consumption. In 2007, the
U.S. hit a new record low of 2.56 persons per household. The data show
that Americans are now spending 29.6% more on energy per capita than
in 1960, based solely on the decline in density.

-- Households headed up by young adults and by Hispanic persons are the
most frugal energy users. Households headed by persons aged 75 or
more spend the least per capita on motor fuels, but spend the most per
capita on electricity, natural gas, and heating oil.

SMR's study is based on its work with the "micro-data" files of the Consumer Expenditures Survey (CES), conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These large, complex files contain raw data on household spending on hundreds of products, allowing a researcher to isolate any product and compare spending patterns to the characteristics of families. SMR used data from 27,159 household interviews conducted in 2006 and 2007, the most recent available.

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