THEGREENGROK    Statistically Speaking

1950s Vs. 2000s: The Drive to Supersize

by Bill Chameides | October 15th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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Refrigerators sure have gotten sleeker, and they are generally much more efficient these days. So why is the amount of energy they use going up?

This post has been updated.

A lot has changed in the past 50 years, much for the better. Energy efficiency measures, for example, have meant less pollution and savings in electricity costs. But there is a but….

Thanks to advanced engineering and government-backed programs such as Energy Star, our appliances and homes have become more efficient. And yet, when all is said and done, we are a lot less efficient than our 1950s counterparts.

In the 1950s the average American consumed roughly 2,200 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year; today that number has grown to roughly 13,800 kilowatt-hours per year. (Estimates derived from population numbers here and electricity totals here [pdf].)

What’s going on? Take a look at a few comparative statistics.


It would appear that our drive to supersize is making us less efficient even as we strive to go out and buy more efficient appliances. So, if you’re looking for one way to lower your impact, try downsizing.


Notes: All recent stats are from 2007 except for: size of home built (stats from 2004), average energy use (stats from 2001) and average volume (stats from 2001). A tilde in front of a number (e.g., ~ 9 cubed feet) indicates the number is rough.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction/Update: October 19, 2009 9:30 am
As initially published, this post mistakenly cited ~4,000,000 U.S. refrigerators in 1950. It should have been roughly 40,000,000 [86.4 percent of the 43,554,000 U.S. households [pdf]].

Sources

U.S. Census Bureau – census.gov

Sue Bowden and Avner Offer, “Household Appliances and the Use of Time: The United States and Britain Since the 1920s” in The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Nov., 1994), pp. 725-748 (published by Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Economic History Society) – jstor.org

Housing Facts, Figures and Trends – soflo.org

“The California Vision: Reducing Energy Intensity 2% Per Year,” California Energy Commission, 2003 – aceee.org

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