U.S. Household Electricity Report

U.S. households rely primarily on three sources of energy: natural gas, electricity, and fuel oil. In the past several decades, electricity’s share of household consumption has grown dramatically, and the shares of natural gas and fuel oil have declined. Retail sales of electricity to U.S. households exceed sales of electricity to the commercial and industrial sectors.

This report is based on data from EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey. The report presents a snapshot of national household electricity consumption in 2001. It is the first in a series of reports analyzing data on electricity end uses, including air-conditioning, space heating, water heating, lighting, and appliance operation. Statistics on annual energy consumption by over two dozen individual appliances are included.


Electricity consumption by 107 million U.S. households in 2001 totaled 1,140 billion kWh. The most significant end uses were central air-conditioning and refrigerators, each of which accounted for about 14 percent of the U.S. total.

HVAC and Water Heating

Heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) accounted for 356 billion kWh, 31 percent of the electricity consumed by U.S. households in 2001. Central air-conditioning alone accounted for almost half of the HVAC total. Although there were improvements in the efficiency of the U.S. stock of air-conditioners over time, central air-conditioning continued to be responsible for the greatest share of household electricity use. The predominance of air-conditioning was due to a significant increase in the number of households with central air-conditioning in the two decades preceding 2001. The share of households with central air-conditioning rose from 27 percent of households in 1980 to 55 percent in 2001.

Electric space heating accounted for an additional 116 billion kWh (10 percent of the total), which is considerable given that, nationwide, space heating was predominantly fueled by natural gas. In almost 31 million households, electricity was the source of energy for the main heating system. In an additional 13 million households, it was used in secondary heating equipment, such as portable heaters and built-in electric units.

Electric furnace fans, which are components of natural gas, fuel oil, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) furnaces, as well as electric furnaces, were used in 76 million households and consumed 38 billion kWh of electricity (3 percent). Other HVAC-related appliances—ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, humidifiers, and evaporative coolers—all together accounted for less than 2 percent of U.S. electricity consumption in 2001.

Electric water heating accounted for over 100 billion kWh (9 percent) in 2001. Of the total of 107 million households, 41 million used electricity as their water heating fuel, compared with 58 million households that used natural gas.

Kitchen and Laundry Appliances

Kitchen and laundry appliances accounted for about one-third of household electricity consumption in 2001. Refrigerators, the biggest consumers among household appliances, used 156 billion kWh of electricity. More electricity was used for refrigerators than for space heating, water heating, or lighting.

Unit energy consumption (UEC) is a measure of electricity consumption per unit per year. For refrigerators in 2001, the average UEC was 1,239 kWh, while U.S. households on average consumed 1,462 kWh for refrigeration. The average for household consumption was higher than the average UEC due to an upward trend in the number of households with more than one refrigerator. In 1984, 12 percent of households had two or more refrigerators; by 2001, 17 percent (18.1 million households) did.

The difference between the average amount of electricity consumed to power one refrigerator and the average household consumption of electricity for refrigeration was even greater because secondary (less-used) refrigerators tend to be older than primary refrigerators. In 2001, the median age of primary refrigerators was 5 years to 9 years, whereas the median age of secondary refrigerators was 10 years to 19 years. Because older units are typically less efficient than newer units, secondary refrigerators drive up the U.S. household average consumption of electricity for refrigeration, leaving significant potential for a reduction in total electricity consumption by refrigerators.

Among kitchen appliances, separate freezers were the second largest consumers of electricity, even though only 34 million households reported having freezers in 2001. Freezers accounted for 3.5 percent of electricity consumed by households.

Dishwashers and range tops each were more common than separate freezers and, together, they accounted for more than 5 percent of household electricity use. Microwave ovens, although ubiquitous, were used only intermittently, and accounted for less than 2 percent of the total.

Laundry appliances were found in most U.S. households. In 2001, 84 million households had clothes washers, which, when energy used to heat water coming into the washer is excluded, consumed 10 billion kWh, 0.9 percent of total national energy consumption. Fewer homes—61 million—had electric clothes dryers (although an additional 17 million households had natural gas dryers). Electric clothes dryers, which use electricity for heating as well as for operating motors, accounted for 66 billion kWh, 5.8 percent of the total.

Lighting and Home Electronics

Lighting includes both indoor and outdoor lighting and is found in virtually every household in the United States. In 2001, lighting accounted for 101 billion kWh (8.8 percent) of U.S. household electricity use. Incandescent lamps, which are commonly found in households, are highly inefficient sources of light because about 90 percent of the energy used is lost as heat. For that reason, lighting has been one focus of efforts to increase the efficiency of household electricity consumption.

Home electronics accounted for 82 billion kWh of U.S. household electricity use in 2001. Color TVs, found in 106 million households, accounted for 33 billion kWh and were the largest single home electronics use.TV peripherals (VCRs/DVDs, cable boxes, and satellite dishes) accounted for an additional 16 billion kWh.

Over 96 million households used some kind of office equipment. PCs were found in 60 million households, and 51 million had Internet access. PCs and peripherals (including printers with and without copier/fax capability) accounted for a combined 23 billion kWh.

The Outlook for Electricity Consumption

Retail sales of electricity to the residential sector totaled 1.3 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2003 and increased use of electricity accounts for 68 percent of the projected increase in residential delivered energy use between 2003 and 2025. The demand for electricity to power appliances is projected to increase rapidly. Electricity consumption for home electronics, particularly for color TVs and computer equipment, is also forecast to grow significantly over the next two decades. EIA projects electricity consumption to grow 3.5 percent annually for color TVs and computer equipment through 2025, to more than double the level of consumption in 2003. Continued growth of new housing in the South, where almost all new homes use central air-conditioning, is also expected to contribute to an increase in household electricity demand.


A large number of Federal and State efficiency standards apply to household equipment and appliances. EIA collects data on the ages of household heating and cooling equipment and two major appliances (refrigerators and freezers) that can be used as indicators of the efficiency of the stock of those items. Quantifying the extent to which efficiency standards affect national and regional electricity consumption will require additional research and data. Clearly, however, the stock of household equipment and appliances was more efficient in 2001 than when the household survey began in the 1980s.

The first State efficiency standards were developed in California and New York during the mid-1970s and in Florida, Kansas, and Massachusetts during the early 1980s. The first Federal legislation, the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, was enacted in 1987. The act established standards for many of the end uses reviewed in this report, including furnaces, central air-conditioners, room air conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, ranges and ovens, clothes washers and dryers, and pool heaters. (After 2001, California, Connecticut, Maryland, and, more recently, New Jersey, Arizona, and Washington, adopted additional standards on the efficiency of household appliances not covered by the national standards.)

Because refrigerators consume so much electricity, they have been the focus of State and Federal efficiency standards. It is interesting to note, however, that the efficiency of new refrigerators increased dramatically even prior to the advent of appliance efficiency standards. The unit energy consumption (UEC) for refrigerators declined from 1,986 kWh in 1972 to 1,077 in 1985.

Calculations of the effects of the Federal standards indicated that the refrigerator UEC would decline from a projected 976 kWh in 1990 (the year in which the first Federal standards were to become effective) to a projected 476 kWh in 2001 (the year in which revised standards were to become effective). Because refrigerators typically last an average of 13 years, however, increases in the efficiency of new units are slow to affect the average efficiency of the national stock of refrigerators. In 2001, the UEC of the average refrigerator in U.S. households was estimated to be 1,239 kWh.

Similarly, the freezer UEC was calculated to fall, as a result of Federal standards, from a projected 645 kWh in 1990 to a projected 413 kWh in 2001, an increase in the average efficiency of freezers of 36 percent. Freezers typically last an average of 11 years, however, and, as is the case with refrigerators, increases in the efficiency of new units are slow to affect overall stock efficiency.

The increased efficiency of traditional appliances such as refrigerators and freezers can, to some extent, offset the effect on electricity consumption of such purchases as more powerful home office equipment, more extensive home entertainment systems, and additional kitchen appliances. It is likely that energy efficiency standards will change the amount of electricity devoted to each end use.


National household electricity consumption is, in effect, an average of household electricity consumption in different regions across the United States and is affected by many factors. Climate is a good example. Hot summers increase the amount of electricity used for air conditioning and other space cooling, so households in southern States will tend to use more electricity. Similarly, cold winters increase the amount of energy used for space heating. Although U.S. households more frequently rely on natural gas than on electricity for heating, in the South the reverse is true, meaning that households in southern States will tend to have a peak of electricity use in winter as well as in summer.

Humidity is another climate-related factor that affects electricity consumption. Households in more humid regions tend to use air-conditioners and dehumidifiers to remove humidity. Households in arid regions, such as the Mountain States, are able to use evaporative coolers instead of air-conditioning for space cooling.

Another regional factor that influences electricity consumption is access to natural gas pipelines. In the South Atlantic Division, for example, the central area of the region is served by natural gas pipelines, but surrounding areas of the region are not. Many households that do not have access to natural gas depend on electricity for major end uses such as space heating and water heating.

Variations in population and its close corollary, number of households, also can explain some regional differences in household electricity consumption. In 2001, California, Texas, New York, and Florida were the four most populous States. California, Texas, and Florida were also the three biggest consumers of residential electricity. However, in New York—a State that consumed more fuel oil than any other State outside New England and where the housing stock is older than the national average—the residential sector consumed less electricity than in four other, less populous States (Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia).

Other regional factors that affect household electricity consumption include:

  • The age of the housing stock. New homes, which are more prevalent in the South, tend to use more electricity.
  • Electricity prices. Low electricity prices, such as those in the West North Central States, can encourage consumption of electricity relative to other energy sources.
  • Urbanization. A lower share of households with personal computers is correlated with less urbanization in such regions as the East South Central.


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