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McMansions and the Energy Gap
Alex Steffen, 20 Apr 05

These two pieces seem to fit together:

First, this awesome infographic on how the American dream-house has grown (or, some might say, swollen) into the American McMansion:

Since 1950, the average new house has increased by 1,247 sq. ft. Meanwhile,the average household has shrunk by 1 person. ... The average new home requires 13,837 board feet of lumber and 19 tons of cement.

In contrast, BBC Radio 4 asked a Midlands family to live on the same energy budget as a typical family in Delhi. It's great radio, but it's also highly illuminating, so to speak. The Indian family uses about a third of the total energy, but the British family finds that some of the reduction they needed to undertake could be done relatively painlessly (they dropped their electricity to 1/6th for instance, though they missed some of their other targets. "You can drastically reduce your consumption by making small changes," said one of the family members.

(via Cascadia Scorecard and Eco-house)

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They should also do a piece on McOffice Buildings. Commercial energy use has outpaced all other sectors since 1949 -- growing 4.79 fold over that period, as compared to:

Residential - 3.78x
Transportation - 3.36x
ALL - 3.07 x
Industrial - 2.21 x

This would be expected in a deindustrializing economy.

An even greater change has occurred in non-primary energy consumption (ie, electricity), which has grown 8.81x during the same period. About 2/3 of that increase in electricity use is fairly evenly split between residential and commercial consumption.

One interesting tidbit is that we use less electricity for transportation today than we did in 1949.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 20 Apr 05

Just a pet peeve here commenting on the graphic. It's both irrelevant and racist to say "white" in this context, along with the Thurston Howell caricature. "Suburban Majority-Culture Men" would be more accurate. If you visit a Costco you're almost guaranteed to see lots of hugely obese people shopping there, black, white, hispanic. I judge the guy in the deck chair on the content of his character and the efficiency of his energy budget, not the color of his skin. There are lots of skinny white hippies in this world, and some of them even live in suburbs.

I know, the graphic is from Mother Jones and it's not your fault. I just wanted to vent. Thanks.

Posted by: pierre on 21 Apr 05

If PBS can do Frontier House and Colonial House and This Old House (which at one time built a solar mansion in Brookline, MA), why don't they do an Eco-house?

If anybody is interested, I have an outline for a do-it-yourself solar TV show on my blog but all my contacts at WGBH have been less than enthusiastic.

Posted by: gmoke on 21 Apr 05

The problem with an eco-house show:

If the house is designed RIGHT, then a show about living in it won't be in the least bit interesting!

The angle for a show on this topic might be a competition to make a environmentally friendly house that ISN'T a hair shirt.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 21 Apr 05

An Eco-House show would not be about hair shirts but about practical changes that save resources and money and make people at least as comfortable and more secure. It would provide examples that viewers could apply to their own houses and apartments now to get greener and keep more green in their pockets.

Look at "This Old House" and you'll see that it's realtor-porn. The mansion they did in Brookline is a multi-million dollar wet dream McMansion. I know. I've walked through it and have the videotape to prove it. Steve Strong did some good work, yes. Boston Electric got their money's worth for sure but it sure wasn't anything like a hair shirt or replicable for the vast majority of the viewers.

We need something that people can look at, understand, and want to have for their own.

Posted by: gmoke on 22 Apr 05



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