Energy Efficiency Limits by Housing Location, Type
In the quest for increased energy efficiency and smaller carbon footprints, many individuals are now making more conscious consumer choices, looking for greener alternatives in everything from household appliances to hybrid vehicles. However, the basic structure of homes, as well as the areas in which they were built, may represent deep challenges to achieving real cuts in personal and family energy consumption.
A 2011 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Location Efficiency and Housing Type: Boiling It Down to BTUs,” compared annual energy outputs (in BTUs) of households in conventional suburban developments with those of households in compact, transit-accessible neighborhoods.
The report’s findings include:
- A detached single family home in a conventional suburb uses, on average, 91 million BTU’s of energy more than the exact same house does if situated in a transit-accessible compact neighborhood. The entire differential — a 38% overall difference — is accounted for by transportation energy costs.
- A household in a multifamily unit with a green car in a transit-accessible area uses 70 million BTUs annually. A family in a detached house in a suburb with a conventional car uses on average 240 million BTUs.
- A household in a conventional suburb with a green vehicle would still on average expend 9 million BTUs more than a household without a green vehicle in a transit-accessible neighborhood.
- Household energy savings for multifamily homes, which use only 54 million BTUs annually to power the living space itself, are dramatic when compared to single-family detached homes — which use 108 million BTUs for home energy. This is because of inherent efficiencies from more compact size and shared walls among units.
The authors conclude that “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.”
Tags: carbon, greenhouse gases, mass transit
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the EPA report "Location Efficiency and Housing Type: Boiling it Down to BTUs."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related Time article "America’s Untapped Energy Resource: Boosting Efficiency."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.