Infographic: Is This Old AC Really Destroying the World?!

A new tool from Pentagram’s Lisa Strausfeld reveals the brutal truth about your home energy consumption.

energy usage chart


Homes are responsible for more than 20% of energy
consumption in the United States. But how do you pinpoint the sources
of all that CO2? An impressive new data-visualization tool from GE and
Pentagram’s Lisa Strausfeld, who knows from information design, helps determine precisely which household electronics do
the most damage.

“The hardest challenge was finding the right data, and making it engaging–ie, What the hell is a watt?” says Strausfeld. “It started out as a visualization of home energy consumption across the U.S. and became, essentially, a calculator.”

The tool starts with a grid of all the energy-suckers you’d find in your house, arranged in order of how power hungry they are. Then, you can rearrange that grid a few different ways–the most important being cost over time. Click that view, and you can pick a time frame
(day, month, year) and the state where you live. Finally, clicking on each appliance reveals stats about how expensive it is to run.

So blasting the AC in California
checks in at $700 a year, and running the fridge in South Carolina sets you
back $158.

If an appliance has a green star next to it, that means
it’s available in an Energy Star model. The tool can tell you how
quickly the Energy Star option pay offs. (Three years, in the case
of the fridge.)


The point, for Strausfeld, is that even though we consume so much energy at home, we don’t understand how our behavior contributes to that fact: “Energy consumption in the home is relatively opaque. But by attaching some new stigmas to old, “gas-guzzling” appliances, our hope is that Americans become as familiar with kilowatt hours as they are to degrees Fahrenheit.”

The project is the latest in a grand series of infographics GE has been producing, in an effort to teach people about how to consume resources more wisely. For example, Ben Fry created a health-care calculator here, which shows the cost of getting sick. David McCandless created another showing how fitness helps work performance. And Thomas Porostocky, working with GOOD magazine, showed the affordability of health care.

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D