Learn about the increase in US household electricity use over the past 50 years, as well as what is driving that increase and what we can expect in the coming years.
Then vs. Now
Households account for nearly 16 percent of all electricity consumed in the United States. A majority of people believe that leadership is not doing enough to battle climate change (67 percent in a 2019 survey by Pew Research). And yet, US household electricity use has increased over the past couple of decades.
But by how much? What is using all that power? Does it vary based on geography? And will the trend continue? We set out to answer all of these questions in this post.
And as Earth Day approaches this month, we’ll set out to help you understand just how your home electricity use ties into air pollution and climate change. We’ll also show you how simple actions can create major impact.
The Rise (and Fall) of Residential Electricity Consumption
Electricity was the least-used form of residential energy in the 1950s, according to the oldest records kept by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). At the start of the ’50s, petroleum and coal were the two most-used fuels in energy generation for homes. Neither is in the top three today. However, coal and petroleum are still used indirectly. This is because they are used to produce much of the electricity now used to power all of our appliances and devices around the house.
That electricity is now the leading source of energy directly used in homes. It has held that position since it surged to first place in 2010, narrowly beating natural gas. That said, according to EIA projections, electricity could slip to second place behind natural gas by the end of this year. In fact, according to EIA, total residential electricity consumption will fall slightly in 2020.
The Typical US Household Electricity Use: Before and After
Today, the average American home consumes just under 11,000 kWh of electricity per year. This figure has risen steadily over the past several years. Electric bills have climbed, too, but at about half the rate of consumption after adjusting for inflation.
Ensuring a comfortable home draws the most electricity in the typical American house. Heating and cooling account for almost one-third of all residential electricity usage. These tasks have both have increased their overall representation in the balance of home electricity use over the years, though heating has seen the most dramatic increase.
Drivers of Home Electricity Use
Several factors are driving this rise in electricity use. Let’s look at two of the biggest reasons why electricity has risen so dramatically: heating and cooling. And while we’re at it, we’ll dive into why there’s hope for reduced consumption this year and beyond.
Space cooling is the single biggest electricity draw in homes. Its projected total residential consumption is expected to reach 226 billion kWh this year alone. Given how electricity-intensive air conditioning is, we might expect people in warm climates to be using more electricity.
And the numbers confirm that. Generally, people spend more on electricity in places where the temperature is more consistently high. In other words, the American South.
In fact, according to EIA figures on retail sales of residential electricity, nine of the 10 states with the highest sales figure per household are in the South. And the average Southern home uses a shocking 70 percent more electricity than its Northeastern counterpart! This means that small changes in cooling habits can yield major savings in these areas.
The use of electricity for home heating remains the minority of all homes—about one in four homes are all-electric. But as we’ve already seen, space heating as a share of all residential electricity usage has climbed by 52 percent since 1990. And powering a home entirely with electricity is more common in the South. About half of southern homes are all-electric, compared to only 10 percent in the Northeast.
The resurgence of natural gas may be due in part to its relatively lower cost compared to electricity. About half of all American homes use natural gas for heating. The average electric consumer spends just over $1,450 per year, while gas costs the typical household only about $752. Of course, electricity is more versatile. Natural gas can fuel only a few specific items, like a furnace or water heater.
The mitigating influence of energy efficiency technology and programs like ENERGY STAR is another reason why electricity could be overtaken by natural gas this year. In 2017, the use of ENERGY STAR certified appliances saved Americans about 170 billion kWh in electricity. That equates to approximately $21 billion in savings! It is for that reason, among others, that we at WattDoesItUse are so passionate about helping you identify the best energy-efficient devices and appliances.
About 3 in 4 households say ENERGY STAR labels have influenced their purchasing decisions. And many homes still have incandescent light bulbs in them. But Americans have purchase more than 4 billion ENERGY STAR-rated light bulbs since the start of the program in the early 1990s.
Act Now to Change the Trend
The average American household spends nearly $1,500 per year on electricity, from running the heat and AC, to watching TV, to doing laundry. Virtually every task inside the home draws electricity at some point. But increased appliance efficiency, behavioral changes and a resurgence in the use of natural gas are contributing to an overall plateau (or even decline) in US household electricity use in 2020.
Whether that trend will continue remains to be seen. It’s up to each of us to make changes so that the next 50 years doesn’t bring the same increase that we saw over the last half-century. Optimize your home’s heating and cooling with a smart thermostat. Leverage other smart technology to reduce your power consumption. Or make simple changes in your home office and daily chores. Each of us has the power to make a difference in every aspect of our lives.
Wanting to learn more about the breakdown of appliance and device power consumption? WattDoesItUse enables you to look up the energy use of each of your electronic devices and appliances. Next week, we will also break down what is driving the average US home electricity use. That will help you put the pieces together to save energy, save money, and help save the planet. Stay up-to-date by subscribing to our monthly newsletter. And continue to follow WattDoesItUse for the latest and greatest in energy saving strategies!