Sunday, November 14, 2010

McMansion Misconceptions

Covering the arrest on corruption charges of Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson & his wife, WAMU Reporter David Schultz tweeted on Friday:
Far and away, weirdest thing to come out of today's Jack Johnson proceedings: Johnsons' home heating bill totals more than $1,000/ month ... Judge was going to prohibit Johnsons from making transactions >$1k. their lawyers objected, citing mortgage & pepco bills
I'm very thankful for my tiny apartment power bill as compared to friends with large suburban homes. I tweeted:
Friend in PA with a medium-sized (for this era) house says his highest power bill was $900, so it's definitely possible
David replied:
That's more than I pay in rent, srsly. Insulation folks, it's all abt the insulation.
I realized David was limited to 140 characters here, but when I hear things like this, I worry conservationists have oversold the potential of insulation & energy efficiency. I'm guessing Jack Johnson has an obscenely gigantic house that you could cover in the world's biggest Snuggie & it would still require huge amounts of energy & cash each month to heat.

In the last 40 years, we've seen major advances in insulation like double-paned windows. On top of that, appliances today don't need nearly as much juice as they did a generation ago. So why has per person residential energy use nearly doubled in the last 35 years?
The answer is simple -- we've wasted all those insulation & efficiency gains by building ever-larger houses. The rises in residential electricity use & home sizes have mirrored each other:

Don't get me wrong, efficiency & insulation are critical pieces of the bigger puzzle. But as long as our government policies continue to encourage larger homes, it's the equivalent of attacking the obesity epidemic by encouraging people to order a Diet Coke with their Super-Sized Extra Value Meal.
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