- April 1, 2017; Vol. 4, Number 4

Trading TVs for Handheld Devices: Latest data show changing household energy characteristics

by Mike Consol

The number of homes with three or more televisions declined, and a larger share of households have no television at all. Those trends are according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey, produced by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Data from the survey highlights the variability and trends in energy use across the nation’s more than 118 million single-family homes, apartments and mobile homes, with entertainment and information devices varying by age: Younger households tend to have a lower concentration of televisions per person and a higher concentration of portable devices such as laptops and smart phones. Older households are more likely to have higher concentrations of desktop computers.

Other survey findings include:

• 70 million homes (59 percent) have double- or triple-pane windows

• Homeowners are more likely than renters to have energy-efficient LED lightbulbs; only 11 percent of households report having all incandescent bulbs

• The number of homes heating with fuel oil continues to decline, down 23 percent from 2005

• 77 million households use central air conditioning, up 17 percent in the past 10 years

• Although more than half of all households have a programmable thermostat, only one-third of those households use the programming feature to automatically set the heating temperature

The agency’s survey captured more than 200 energy-related items from more than 5,600 households. Several questions remain similar to those in previous surveys, allowing time-series analysis using RECS data back to the late 1970s. As energy use in households changes, new questions are added or old ones are revised. The most recent survey was the first to include questions about tablets, smart thermostats, and LED lighting.

Prior to the newly released survey, household characteristics data were collected solely by in-person interviews conducted by field staff. The new survey was collected via an online questionnaire and mail-in paper survey. Of the 5,600 respondents, about 43 percent were conducted through in-person interviews, 37 percent through online questionnaires, and 20 percent through mail-in paper surveys.

Household characteristics summary tables, including data about the types of fuels used and equipment installed in households, are the first in a series of data releases that will come from the research effort. A microdata file with household-level data, with more detailed analysis, is scheduled for release in April 2017.

As part of its survey, U.S. Energy Information Administration also collects energy billing data from utilities and other household energy suppliers. These data are used to estimate aggregate household energy consumption and expenditures, as well as to disaggregate household energy use into specific end-uses such as heating, cooling, water heating and refrigeration.

Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser.

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