Residential Energy Use Drops as Americans Spend More Time at Home

It's no surprise that, as Americans become more dependent on computers, smartphones and other digital devices, demand for electricity increases.

A study published this January in the science journal Joule looks more closely at this trend and finds the results are a little counterintuitive.

Titled "Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States," the study was conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.

They examined the effects on energy consumption over a 10-year period induced by lifestyle shifts and the tradeoffs they have for time spent in performing certain activities.

By examining survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the researchers found Americans are spending much more time at home and much less time traveling and in non-residential buildings. This resulted in a net reduction in residential energy use.

Fueling this dynamic is a major lifestyle change for Americans. The researchers found Americans spend almost eight more days at home in 2012 than they did in 2003. They surmise this is a result of an increase in the use of information and communication technology and the change in lifestyle patterns that this creates, such as telecommuting and online shopping.

While this change in behavior may lead to more energy use at home, it is more than compensated for by the reduction in energy consumed by transportation and non-residential buildings.

Overall, the study found that energy consumption in the U.S. residential sector decreased by 1,160 trillion Btus from 2003 to 2012.

The researchers argue the trend also suggests revisions of energy-efficiency polices. For example, if Americans are spending less time in vehicles and more time at home, policies should be adopted to place less of a priority on transportation efficiency and more on residential energy efficiency to have more of an impact.

Finally, the researchers argue that more emphasis should be placed on time use in energy efficiency planning. For example, home energy audits could also account for lifestyle choices, including time spent at home, in addition to appliances and home insulation when evaluating overall energy use in the home.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer

Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at

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