Study: big homes, 1-person households are main causes of consumer energy waste

Hackettstown, NJ, Jan. 8, 2009 — Changes in household size and home construction have been the main causes of over-consumption of energy by American consumers, according to a new study released by SMR Research Corp. A reversal of such trends, SMR noted, would dramatically reduce U.S. energy use.

SMR’s study, “Consumer Energy Spending And The Demographics Of Over-Consumption,” is based on detailed interviews with more than 27,000 households.

Single-person households, which have grown at triple the rate of overall population growth since 1960, use 18.4 percent more energy per capita than two-person households do, SMR found. They use 52.8 percent more energy per capita than three-person households.

Even when excluding households with children, since they do not drive, per-capita energy use is far higher among single-person households than any others, SMR found.

SMR also found that people in houses with 10 or more rooms use 18.8 percent more energy than people in 8-room homes, and 31.3 percent more than people in 7-room homes — regardless of the age of the home. The average square footage of newly built homes has increased by some 34 percent since 1980, SMR noted.

The SMR study reviewed household spending on six major energy products: electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, heating oil, and bottled gas.

Among other findings of the study:

* Spending data belie the notion that the most educated consumers are the most sensitive to energy conservation. Instead, people with Master’s degrees or higher spend more on energy per household and per person than any others.
* Energy spending per person rises along with incomes.
* There is poor correlation between energy spending and the age of a home, suggesting that by now, people in older homes have already taken such steps as adding insulation. The housing characteristics that do correlate with energy spending are size and value.
* Household density is the key problem in over-consumption. In 2007, the U.S. hit a new record low of 2.56 persons per household. The data show that Americans are now spending 29.6 percent more on energy per capita than in 1960, based solely on the decline in density.
* Households headed up by young adults and by Hispanic persons are the most frugal energy users. Households headed by persons aged 75 or more spend the least per capita on motor fuels, but spend the most per capita on electricity, natural gas, and heating oil.

SMR’s study is based on its work with the “micro-data” files of the Consumer Expenditures Survey (CES), conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The files contain raw data on household spending on hundreds of products, allowing a researcher to isolate any product and compare spending patterns to the characteristics of families. SMR used data from 27,159 household interviews conducted in 2006 and 2007, the most recent available.

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