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Contrary to what we hear about conservative practices with energy consumption, energy use in American homes has actually increased over the past 30 years. Data compiled by the U.S. Energy Department identified various reasons as to why we’re using more energy, primarily electricity.

Data from the Energy Department revealed a sharp rise in electricity usage for households in 2018, elevating to the highest levels ever. Households purchase electricity from utility companies in measurements known as megawatt hours. A megawatt is equivalent to one million watts, which is approximately the same energy produced by 10 automobile engines. At 1,463,533,000 megawatts for 2018, that amounts to an enormous amount of energy usage.

Energy Chart

The use of more energy has been originating from homes all over the country, driving up usage and even straining grid capacities at certain times of the year. The culprit to elevated electricity consumption is the plethora of smaller electronic devices that have encroached upon American homes over the past few years.

As technological advancements have created more electronic devices, and at affordable prices, the increased use of plug in outlets and power strips has also increased. The Energy Department estimates that energy used in households for appliances and electronic devices accounted for about 21% of total household consumption throughout the 1980s. It now estimates that over 35% of total consumption is appliance and electronic device driven.

Over the years a multitude of regulations and laws have been enacted to curtail the use of electricity by larger and widely used appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. The challenge has been the ongoing proliferation of smaller electronic devices and the difficulty to identify and regulate them.

Bigger homes have become more of the norm since the late 90s, where homes built in the 1970s and 1980s were typically less than 1800 sq ft. In the 1990s the average size of a new home increased to 2200 sq ft and rose to 2400 sq ft in the 2000s. Even though homes built in the 90s and 2000s contain more energy efficient technology, the larger area and higher ceilings consume more energy to heat and cool, outweighing some of the technology benefits.

— Nick Toadvine