How Much Power Does a House Use?

Megan Stubblefield
25 Watt Bulb

Maintaining the average modern American home requires a large expenditure of power. Based on statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average American household used 10,837 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity in 2012. As a reference point, according to Renewable Energy World, Watts measure energy, and kWh are units that measure the consumption of electricity over a given length of time. For example, Renewable Energy World states that when a 100-Watt light bulb burns over the course of 10 hours, it will consume 1,000 Watt hours in the process, which is the equivalent of a kWh.

Computers

Based on estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy (USDE), laptops usually consume around 50 Watts of electricity, as opposed to a total of 270 Watts for the CPU and monitor of a personal computer. Customers will usually save energy by using laptops instead of desktops. Individuals that would like to save even more energy can specifically look for computers that have earned Energy Star ratings.

Televisions

The energy efficiency of a given television set usually depends on its size. The USDE estimates that 19-inch television screens use a maximum of 110 Watts, while 61-inch screens can consume as many as 170 Watts. LED televisions are the most energy efficient, using up to three times less energy than plasma sets. Playing DVDs tapes also has its costs, as DVD players use 20 to 25 Watts.

Lighting

No one should underestimate the power differential between high and low-wattage light bulbs. According to the California Energy Commission, the newer 72-Watt halogen incandescent light bulbs provide the same illumination as the 100-Watt bulbs they replaced, while needing 28 percent less electricity than their predecessors. Compact florescent replacement bulbs are 23-Watt bulbs and need 75 percent less energy than the original 100-Watt bulbs, based on information from the California Energy Commission.

Kitchen Energy Usage

Modern food preparation can be costly in terms of energy.

  • According to the USDE, coffee makers can consume as many as 1200 Watts and toasters can consume up to 1400 Watts, so homeowners will use a great deal of electricity just making breakfast.
  • The USDE estimates also indicate that a frost-free refrigerator measuring 16 cubic feet will use 725 Watts.
  • Survey results from the EIA suggest that 14 percent of the electricity that homeowners consume goes to refrigerators.
  • Washing the dishes at the end of any meal can be energy intensive, since the USDE estimates indicate that dishwashers can consume up to 2400 Watts, particularly if homeowners do not let their dishes air-dry.
  • Using hot water in the kitchen is not without its energy costs. A 40-gallon water heater will consume up to 5500 Watts. Homeowners can save power as well as water by limiting their use of hot water.
  • People who regularly cook using electronic ovens will consume a great deal of energy in the process. Based on information from Energy Use Calculator, electric ovens consume 2400 Watts per hour on average, assuming that the heat is set to a medium or high level. The temperature at which homeowners cook their food has a direct effect on the amount of energy consumed.

Washing Machines

Washing machines have to comply with federal efficiency standards. According to the USDE, in 2012, homeowners only used about three percent of their energy on both washing machines and dishwashers combined. Recently, the standards were amended, and front-loading washing machines will use 15 percent less energy than they did previously, and top-loading washing machines will use 33 percent less energy than they did previously.

Standby Power

Homeowners should know that unplugging appliances can often save a very large amount of electricity in the long-term. The electricity that unused appliances consume is called standby power, and according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, it may constitute up to one tenth of the electricity that residential consumers in industrialized nations expend. A useful conversion factor from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates that an appliance that is consistently draining one Watt of electricity will consume nine kWh annually, so appliances that drain five Watts will consume 45 kWh every year.
Appliances vary in terms of the quantity of standby power they consume when plugged in. For instance, according to estimates from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:
  • Unused microwave ovens that are left plugged in can consume five Watts of electricity.
  • DVD players can consume more than 10 Watts, and VCRs consume roughly the same amount.
  • Coffee makers that are actually turned off but still plugged in can use about 2.5 Watts of electricity.
  • Inkjet printers that are turned off but not left unplugged can expend as many as four Watts of standby power.

Consumers who leave unused electronics plugged in could end up silently consuming a large amount of power over time. Still, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory states that standby power is sometimes a requirement for certain appliances, including appliances that visually display something for an extended period of time, or internal clocks that need a steady source of energy. Homeowners will only be able to do so much when it comes to saving energy with these sorts of devices.

Powering Homes Using Solar Panels

Switching from nonrenewable sources of energy to renewable sources of energy can reduce the environmental consequences of energy consumption, and solar power is a viable alternative energy option. Different homes will have different solar power requirements. Places like Affordable Solar Wholesale Distribution will allow homeowners to estimate the amount of solar infrastructure they will need based on their current electricity expenditure.

According to the Solar Tribune, solar panels have become a more cost-effective and practical option recently. However, according to Microgrid Solar, something as simple as having sufficient effective roof space can determine the extent to which homeowners can rely on solar power, and most homeowners will not be able to completely power their homes using solar energy at present. Advances in solar technology may change the situation in the future. The fact that some homeowners are currently able to rely partly on solar energy to power their homes should still be considered progress.

Changes in Energy Consumption Patterns

Americans once spent the majority of their power heating and cooling their homes. According to the EIA, as recently as 1993, about 53 percent of the power used in American households went to heating and and just under five percent went to air conditioning. In 2009, less than 48 percent of the total electricity expenditure for U.S. households went to heating and air conditioning combined. However, in 2009, the EIA indicates that American households spent 34.6 percent of their electricity on a combination of lighting, household appliances, and electronics, compared to 24 percent in 1993.

Making a Difference

The consumption of fossil fuels and electricity go hand in hand. Fossil fuels are consumed in order to produce each and every kWh of electricity. Based on estimates from the EIA, it takes the equivalent of 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1.09 pounds of coal, or 0.08 gallons of petroleum to produce one kWh of electricity. Renewable energy and energy-efficient appliances hold some promise for concerned citizens looking to reduce their impact on the environment and spending on electricity. Voluntarily purchasing energy-efficient appliances and electronics could make a tremendous difference in current energy consumption trends as well as overall household expenditures on electricity.

How Much Power Does a House Use?