Electricity 101: How We Use Electricity at Home

Nearly every task in our day-to-day contributes to how we use electricity at home. Source: Andrew Neel

Ever wonder the breakdown of how we use electricity at home? Learn what drives the average US household’s energy use, how that has changed over the past 30 years, and how it is projected to change in the future.

According to projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), American households will consume more than 1.4 trillion kWh of electricity in 2020 to power everything from air conditioners to modems to table lamps. Most of us are all too familiar with the amount we pay our electricity provider every month. But exactly what drives that home electricity consumption? That is typically less well-understood.

The average person probably has even less understanding of how household electricity consumption has changed over time or what’s expected to happen as climate change and other factors continue to impact people all over the world.

This mission of Watt Does It Use is to empower you to save energy and save money by easily finding the power consumption of each of your home appliances and electronic devices. And some of you may want to take that a step further by directly measuring the energy use of every aspect of your home. But for many of us, the first place to start is by understanding the average US American household’s electricity consumption.

So with that in mind, what drives the breakdown of how we use electricity at home on average? How has that evolved over the past three decades with advances in technology? And what can we expect in the next three decades? Let’s dive into the numbers.

The Average American Home in 2020

What does the mix of energy use look like in the American average home? And how does yours compare?

The U.S. EIA expects the average U.S. home to consume 10,993 kWh of electricity in 2020. Large quantities of that power will go towards just two uses: heating and cooling. These two uses of electricity are roughly equivalent in the average home. Although this certainly varies by geography, as air conditioners are major drivers of electricity use and tend to run on overtime in the southern states of the U.S.

Three Activities Dominate How We Use Electricity at Home

Among the six biggest single uses of home electricity, space heating, space cooling and water heating are each at least twice as electricity-intensive as the No. 4 use on the list, refrigeration. Still, while the top six single uses account for more than half the electricity the typical home consumes, there are many other appliances and gadgets drawing their share of power.

2020 average kWh per household by end use, top 6 single uses
2020 average power consumption per household by end use, top 6 single uses

Here’s a full breakdown of how we use electricity at home in the US:

Think about the items you interact with on a daily basis. There’s likely a very important one not mentioned here: your smartphone! You might also notice that the “other” category draws more electricity than heating and cooling combined. This is due mostly to the sheer number of items this category includes. The U.S. EIA includes a slew of miscellaneous electronics that we rely on in this category. From coffee makers, to vacuum cleaners, to security cameras, to pool pumps and even, yes you guessed it, your precious smartphone!

30 Years of Change

The mix of how we use electricity at home today has changed significantly from three decades ago. In 1990, believe it or not, refrigeration represented the biggest electricity draw in US homes. Keeping food cold took almost as much electricity in the average home (1,517 kWh per year) as air-conditioning takes today (1,583 kWh per year). 

While total residential electricity use has risen by nearly 60 percent, the simultaneous growth in the U.S. households means that per-household electricity use has gone up at a still significant but far lower rate — about 19.4 percent. 

Let’s look at how the mix of household electricity use changed between 1990 and today:

New Electronics Are Contributing to Our Rising Electricity Use

We should note that collective “other” uses rose from 4.7 percent in 1990 to 31.8 percent today. While that is a huge change, it’s unlikely that this is a direct apples-to-apples comparison for a couple reasons. First, technology now allows the U.S. EIA to capture more data than it could in 1990. This means our information is more accurate than ever before. In the process, the U.S. EIA has changed how it gathers data by increasing the number of categories that make up residential electricity consumption. 

Second, the invention of new electronic devices has naturally expanded the pie in terms of overall electricity demand. From smartphones and tablets, to home espresso machines, the new electronics we use on a daily basis each represent incremental gains in our electricity use. Alone, they don’t merit their own “categories”…. Yet! But combined, they do add up (as evidenced by the proportion of our energy consumption that the “Other” category represents).

We Rely on Electricity More Than Ever

Despite the slightly apples-to-oranges changes in “other” electricity use, one thing is clear: more of our devices and home appliances than ever before require electricity to run. 

Fortunately, many primary end uses have seen their individual percentages fall thanks to advances in energy efficiency technology. For example, refrigeration energy use has dropped 10.4 percentage points in the mix over the past 30 years!

What Does the Future Hold?

According to the U.S. EIA’s furthest projections, through 2050, American households certainly continue use more electricity from here. In fact, the EIA anticipates an increase in electricity consumption by nearly 25 percent over the next 30 years! 

While few end uses will remain unchanged, there’s one notable change we should all have our eyes on: air conditioning.

Air Conditioning Will Dominate How We Use Electricity At Home

Space cooling (i.e. air conditioning) is already the largest driver of how we use electricity at home. And the U.S. EIA projects that it will rise by another 7 percentage points in the overall residential mix between now and 2050. Even more shocking though is the raw increase in air conditioning-related electricity use. The EIA projects that the power consumption for space cooling will increase 82.8 percent, from 203 billion kWh in 2020 to 372 billion kWh in 2050! 

It’s Not Too Late to Change the Projections

However, that doesn’t have to be. Each of us can do our part to conserve energy in every aspect of our lives. Of course the most impactful area is to cut back our heating and cooling-related energy use. And this doesn’t have to be as painful as you might think!

For example, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), by backing off our air conditioning by 10 degrees for the eight hours a day we’re working, we can save 10 percent of heating and cooling-related electricity. That also means a 10 percent reduction in air conditioning-related expense!

Take Action

Are these statistics getting you amped to save money and help save the environment by upgrading appliances and changing some of your daily habits? Share the steps you are taking in the comments below and share this information with your friends so they can take steps in their homes!

For more energy saving strategies and product reviews, and to continue to better understand which appliances are driving your electricity bill up, subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog

Facts Behind This Piece

Generally, we’ve provided direct links to information sources within the text. But if you want to dig more into the data that powered this analysis, we support your curiosity! All of our information came from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, including 2020 and 2050 projections, 1990 data and other details about how the administration gathers and publishes its data. 

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *