How Energy is Distributed throughout our Homes.


What uses more enegry in our homes – heating,cooling,lighting, or powering electronics like TVs, computers, and mp3 players? And do houses in the United States use more electricity or natural gas?


The ability to heat and cool is one important accomplishment of modern technology. Our ovens, freezers, and homes can be kept at any temperature we choose, a luxury that wasn’t possible 100 years ago. But keeping our homes comfortable uses a lot of energy.

Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to exactly 100%.

Lighting is also essential to a modern society. Lights have revolutionized the way we live, work, and play. Most homes still use the traditional incandescent bulbs invented by Thomas Edison. These bulbs convert only about 10% of the electricity they use into light; the other 90% is converted into heat. In 1879, the average bulb produced only 14 lumens (a measure of the quantity of light) per watt, compared to about 17 lumens per watt from modern incandescent bulbs. By adding halogen gases, the efficiency can be increased to 20 lumens per watt.

Compact fluorescent bulbs, or “CFLs,” have made inroads into home lighting systems in the last few years. These bulbs last much longer and use much less energy than incandescent bulbs, producing significant savings over the life of the bulb.

Appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers are also more energy efficient than they used to be. Congress passed the National appliance energy conservation act in 1990 that requires new appliances to meet strict energy efficiency standards.


Natural gas is the most widely consumed energy source in American homes, followed by electricity, heating oil, and propane. Natural gas and heating oil (fuel oil) are used mainly for home heating. Electricity  may also be used for heating and cooling, plus it lights our homes and runs almost all of our appliances including refrigerators, toasters, and computers. Many homes in rural areas use propane for heating, while others use it to fuel their barbecue grills.


About 80% of residential energy use is consumed in single-family homes, while 15% is consumed in multi-family dwellings such as apartments, and 5% is consumed in mobile homes.

More than half of the energy used for heating in single-family homes (either attached or detached) is natural gas, about one-fourth is electricity, and one-tenth is fuel oil (heating oil). Most single-family homes have some type of air conditioning, and almost all single-family homes have a washing machine and a dryer.

Single-Family Dwellings:

In 2005, for main fuel used for heating and operating equipment:

  • 56% use natural gas
  • 26% use electricity
  • 7% use fuel oil
  • 6% use liquefied petroleum gases (LPG)
  • 1% use kerosene

Eighty-four percent of single-family homes have air conditioning (central system, wall/window units, or both).

For Appliances:

  • 95% have a clothes washer
  • 92% have a clothes dryer
  • 74% have a personal computer

Multi-Family Dwellings:

Multi-family dwellings such as apartments use about equal amounts of natural gas and electricity for heating. More than 80% of multi-family homes have air conditioning and more than one-third contain washers and dryers.

In 2005, for main heating fuel and equipment:

  • 47% use natural gas
  • 41% use electricity
  • 7% use fuel oil
  • almost no one uses LPG or kerosene

Eighty-two percent of multi-family homes have air conditioning (a central system, wall/window units, or both).

For appliances:

  • 40% have a clothes washer
  • 35% have a clothes dryer
  • 55% have a personal computer

Mobile Homes:

In 2005, for main heating fuel and equipment:

  • 27% use natural gas
  • 42% use electricity
  • 3% use fuel oil
  • 19% use LPG
  • 4% use kerosene

Eighty-four percent of mobile homes have air conditioning (central system, wall/window units, or both).

For appliances:

  • 87% have a clothes washer
  • 78% have a clothes dryer
  • 49% have a personal computer

Mobile homes are more likely than the other types of homes to heat with propane (LPG). More than one-third of mobile homes use electricity and about one-third use natural gas for heating. Most mobile homes contain washing machines and dryers.

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