Location Efficiency: The Energy Efficiency Opportunity of “Where” Is Here

Blog | April 08, 2011 - 7:13 pm

How does where we build our homes, businesses, and transportation infrastructure impact our energy use?  A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report  attempts to tackle just that question. The report analyzes the energy use associated with different housing and neighborhood types. It also serves as a concise and readable primer on research related to the energy implications of “location efficiency.”

Two findings of the analysis in the report are particularly notable. First, the report finds that the energy demand implications of location and community design choices can outweigh the energy saved from efficient building and vehicle technology. The analysis compared two generalized neighborhood types—Conventional Suburban Development and Transit Oriented Development—and found that the energy savings from the transit-oriented scenario (39–50 percent) outweighed the savings from the scenario with an efficient home and vehicle (34–38 percent). This pattern held true across all the three housing types analyzed: single-family detached, single-family attached, and multifamily. Of course, the combination of being in a transit-oriented location and adopting energy-efficient technology had by far the greatest energy savings potential: a whopping 54–64 percent depending on housing type.

Second, large energy savings can be gained from location efficiency regardless of the housing types involved. A transit-oriented neighborhood consisting of only single-family homes can provide large energy savings (according to the report, 39 percent compared to suburban development). Nearly all of the savings come from increased transportation options and decreased dependence on single-occupant vehicle trips. 

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 (neighborhood characteristics that Americans clearly value) while decreasing household energy costs and potentially increasing overall housing affordability. That’s a vision of the future we can all get behind.