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.

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