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New Research: Americans Are Conserving Energy by Spending More Time at Home

Posted February 5, 2018

Image credit: bruce mars via, CC0 Public Domain

Environmental sustainability is a hot topic, and there are a wide variety of products to help people live in ways that save energy.

Those items allow them to cut utility bill costs, and they’re good for the planet.

However, a new behavior-based study indicates Americans aren’t necessarily only saving energy with the things they buy. They’re also doing it by changing their lifestyles.

The Details of the Discovery

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases data collectively known as the American Time Use Survey. Not surprisingly based on the name, it reveals what Americans do with their time by looking at various categories, such as work, leisure activities and childcare.

It’s an annual survey, but it doesn’t pinpoint what all Americans do. Instead, there are about 11,000 respondents polled for each edition. Also, the investigation doesn’t include simultaneous activities.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the Rochester Institute of Technology teamed up and investigated a decade worth of American Time Use Surveys to see how things changed over the years.

A Trend of More Time at Home, Less Time Traveling

The scientists found 2012 statistics confirming Americans spent an average of eight more days at home than they did in 2003. Also, they traveled for one day less and reduced the time spent in non-residential buildings by a week. Although this study didn’t break down the types of non-home structures, the findings match issues experienced by certain industries more recently.

For example, the National Association of Theater Owners found 2017 attendance at cinemas hit a 24-year low, resulting in numbers not seen since the 1990s.

An Age-Related Shift

Portions of the study looked at behavioral habits of different age groups, too. When looking at 2003 data and finding the differences in information from 2012, the researchers found that people over 65 were the only group who spent more time outside the home during the more recent year compared to the past.

Also, people aged 18-24 liked to stay home the most. Specifically, people from that segment were 70 percent more likely than the general population to not leave the house. That statistic was reportedly the largest age-related change in the study.

Connecting the Behavioral Trends to Energy Usage

This comparative study also involved looking at how American energy use changed due to these behaviors. The scientists noted a 480 trillion BTU increase in residential energy. However, they also saw that energy use for non-residential spaces dropped by over 1,000 trillion BTU.

Furthermore, there was a 1,200 trillion BTU decrease in transportation-related energy. The full-text of the study, published in the Joule journal, mentioned that driving is the most energy-intensive activity per minute.

Unrelated studies indicate a continuous decline in the number of people aged 16-44 getting their driver’s licenses. However, it’s a trend that started in 1983, before the internet and smartphones became part of mainstream culture.

The researchers reportedly expected to see a reduction in net energy usage. However, the magnitude of it surprised them.

Due to the increasing prevalence of renewable energy sources around the world, future studies of this sort may show the reduction of fossil fuel dependence combined with behavioral trends leads to an even more impressive change. Recent data shows that about 16 percent of global energy consumption comes from renewable resources.

The Reasons Are Hard to Clarify

When giving insights about their study, the researchers said they couldn’t give a definite answer about why people are spending more time at home. However, they suggested computer-based entertainment options and ways for people to work from home are two of the likely factors.

The total BTUs saved represented about 1.8 percent of the national total. To put that in perspective, the amount is approximately the total amount of energy produced in Kentucky during 2015.

Ashok Sekar, the study’s lead author, wants to dig deeper into the data during future research. That might involve comparing Americans’ energy usage to that of people from other countries. Or, it could include looking at energy expenditure for lifestyle choices such as shopping for an item online and getting expedited delivery versus buying it in a local store.

If people continue to spend more time at home than in previous years, that makes investments in energy-saving technologies especially sensible.

This research might encourage manufacturers to create increasingly innovative offerings to meet market demand.

Furthermore, it could offer guidance to the environmental leaders and energy specialists in other countries who want to understand how lifestyle choices impact energy expenditures.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.

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