Energy efficiency and the annoying guy next door

Who would have thought backyards would cause so much trouble for the North American energy industry? First came the NIMBYs, the not-in-my-backyard protesters who block power projects from being built near them. And now we have the GIMBBYs – the give-me-a-bigger-backyard homeowners who are unwittingly getting in the way of energy efficiency.

GIMBBYs aren’t worried about seeing wind turbines or transmission lines from their backyards as are the NIMBYs. It’s the guy next store that they don’t want to see. And GIMBBYs number many among us. A recent study conducted for the National Association of Realtors found privacy to be very important in selecting a home for nearly half of the Americans surveyed.

What’s this got to with energy efficiency? To gain privacy we move to homes that are further from work, schools and stores, suburban and rural outposts that offer us bigger backyards. By way of disclosure, before I go any further let me confess that I am a GIMBBY. I’d probably give up my lights, heat and air conditioning before my five acres of trees shielding me from others.

The Environmental Protection Agency calls big-backyard neighborhoods like mine “automobile dependent locations” and contrasts them with “transit-oriented” neighborhoods, places where you can hop a bus or easily walk to regular destinations. The agency recently looked at which kind of neighborhood uses the most British Thermal Units (BTUs), taking into account size and type of house, its energy efficiency, and vehicle use of its occupants. This is known as Location Efficiency.

The EPA’s findings indicate that location really is everything. Transit-oriented neighborhoods offered up more energy savings whether the houses were single family detached, single family attached or multi-family. This is significant because homes that share walls typically require less energy for heating and cooling. But that advantage was not significant enough to overcome driving distance for the big-backyard neighborhoods. Travel requirements pretty much trumped all, indicating that a home’s location is “a major variable for household energy consumption,” the EPA said.
graph/
“The takeaway here is that a location-efficient future does not necessarily mean a world of only multifamily housing. Far from it, location efficiency can enable greater housing choices, access to services, and more transportation options,” said Eric Mackres, communities program manager for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy in his blog.

So should all of us GIMBBYs pack up and move to the city? Clearly, that’s not going to happen. But our current housing development slump gives us time to reflect on how to design neighborhoods for the future. The graying of America is leading to an increasing number of childless households. And as the EPA study points out, these retirees often show a preference for “more walkable, vibrant urban places.” Demand will still exist for suburban homes with big backyards, but that demand is decreasing. So we may be entering a rare period when maximum energy efficiency and consumer desire go hand and hand.  We may not have to look far afield to achieve significant energy savings; the answer might be in our backyards.

Elisa Wood’s white paper, “Exporting US Energy Efficiency,” is available at www.RealEnergyWriters.com.

Views: 28

Comment

You need to be a member of Home Energy Pros to add comments!

Join Home Energy Pros

Comment by tedkidd on May 19, 2011 at 7:32am
Nicely done.  Takes an ever more apparent problem, succinctly defines it, and supports it with study data.

Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros was founded by the developers of Home Energy Saver Pro (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy,) and brought to you in partnership with Home Energy magazine.

Latest Activity

Craig Foley posted an event
Thumbnail

NESEA BuildingEnergy '15 at Seaport World Trade Center, Boston

March 4, 2015 from 10:30am to 12:30pm
High-Performance, Green Homes in Residential Real EstateInstructor Craig Foley will present three…See More
Friday
Casey Gesell posted a video

ThermalDry® Insulated Floor Decking!

Larry Janesky, owner and founder of Dr. Energy Saver is once again On the Job insulating and finishing a basement in the northeast – and introducing a brand new insulation product: ThermalDry Insulated Floor Decking. ThermalDry Floor Decking was…
Friday
Profile IconBergen Heat, Travis Thom and Amita Singh joined Home Energy Pros
Friday
Tom White's video was featured

U.S. Department of Education Webinar for HVACR Educators

Rebroadcast from On April 30, 2013 Sharon Miller and Robin Utz of the U.S. Department of Education conducted a one hour webinar for HVACR educators to provide them firsthand information from Washington. Highlights include: * A blueprint to revise…
Friday
Tom White posted a video

U.S. Department of Education Addresses HVACR Educators 4-30-2013

Rebroadcast from On April 30, 2013 Sharon Miller and Robin Utz of the U.S. Department of Education conducted a one hour webinar for HVACR educators to provid...
Friday
Nate Adams's discussion was featured
Friday
Bud Poll replied to Bud Poll's discussion CO poisoning in Yarmouth Maine
"Hi Chad, I sure would like to hear the follow-up on what caused the CO issue down there.  As…"
Friday
Chad Mcaulife replied to Bud Poll's discussion CO poisoning in Yarmouth Maine
"I got a call yesterday from a homeowner who had a direct vent furnace installed a year ago and she…"
Friday

© 2015   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service