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America's Gadget Obsession Is Causing Massive Electric Bills

Want to know what's behind your energy bill? According to new numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration's Residential Energy Consumption Survey, it's all your high-tech gadgets—and your insistence on sitting and bathing in comfortable temperatures.

The total amount of energy used in U.S. homes remains virtually unchanged between 1978 and 2005. This is baffling, given all the increases in efficiency in both major appliances and home-buidling techniques in those 27 years.

And, indeed, space heating, which used to take up two-thirds of a home's energy use, has been nearly halved: It's now drastically easier to heat your home. However, in a perfect illustration of Jevon's paradox—which states that any energy efficiency gains will be offset by increase use—every other major category has increased. Demand for more hot water and more cold spaces has increased (the number of houses with central air tripled over the time period, for instance).

But the real increase is in home electronics and appliances, which is now using two times the power that they were in 1978. Why's that, given that your refrigerator, washing machine, and dryer are worlds more efficient than they were 30 years ago? It's all those gadgets you have plugged in all the time:


Nearly half of American households have three TVs, a computer, and at least four rechargeable devices spinning their electric meter on any given day. That's not to mention the 79% with a DVD and 43% with a DVR. Suffice it to say, the vast majority of households had just one TV in 1978, and that was it. With all these gadgets, we're burning enough electricity to erase the last 30 years of innovation.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Morgan Clendaniel can be reached by email or on Twitter.

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  • disqus_5HJszqLssX

    I can't stand this gadget obsessed generation. Everywhere you go, people have smartphones in their hands! Not only that, they can't even pull the chargers out of the wall when they have nothing on the ends of them. That takes electricity too! But I guess in this day in age, people have much more money than brain cells. People just seem to be alright with paying through the nose so they can have their gadgets instead of looking back just 20 years ago at how simple things were. People don't even know how to write things down in a freakin notebook anymore or better yet...actually remember that important date without putting in that stupid little iPhone calendar. Studies have shown if you don't exercise your begin to lose vital thinking functionalities! But now I'm starting to get a little bit past the point of this topic. I guess for me, I'd be fine going back even 10 years where we didn't have all this stuff sucking the money right out of our wallets. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if smartphones were the first to go.

  • Robert Folaron

    Interesting how different people interpret the same information. Looking at the charts at the top...and before reading the article, my first thought was "wow, look how much more we can do and how much more comfortably we can live without having increased our electric energy usage". Just wait until we start plugging our electric cars into this same equation!

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    You're right, this is a problem, and where are the solutions? Can we make more efficient gadgets so that TVs and other appliances draw less power when off? What are the Europeans and Asians doing? Same as us or something different? What can we learn from them?

    David Kaiser
    Time Management Coach for Authentic Leaders