• For more information on Green Party membership or to contact Green Party leadership, email info@greensofarlington.org Join the Arlington Greens in person on Wednesday, Oct 5, 2022, at 7 PM in the community room of the Ballston Firehouse located at Wilson Blvd and George Mason Drive.

March 13, 2020

Tear downs and Large Energy Wasteful Houses Contribute to Rising Carbon Emissions in Arlington

Development,environment — @ 4:31 pm

Energy use in Arlington for homes has been rising over the past few years, in part fueled by more residents but also by changes in the size of new houses being built, particularly detached houses.  The 9-percent rise in residents in Arlington during 2010-18 increased use of electricity and natural gas in apartments and houses, but so did having more new McMansions.[1]  During 2010-18, residential use of electricity in Arlington rose 3 percent to 809 million kilo watt hours (kwhs), while use of natural gas rose 28 percent to 91 million therms. [2]

The average house in the United State has about 1,971 square feet of living space; the average house in Virginia is slightly larger at 2,227 square feet, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.[3]  The larger the living area, the more energy is required to heat, cool, and power devices and appliances in that space.

In Arlington over the past decade or so, more and more older detached houses, generally with under 1,500 square feet of living space, are torn down, and replaced by a new 4,000 or larger square foot house.  In 2019, the number of such tear downs amounted to 158.[4]

While the new house may have better insulation and often more energy saving appliances than the demolished house, the much larger living space overwhelms any such energy efficiency savings.  Studies of energy use in U.S. houses indicate that a 4,000 square foot house uses about 160 percent more electricity than a 1,500 square foot house, and about 76 percent more natural gas, as outlined here.[5]

Energy use by size of house in the United States:

Size of house                   Electricity    Natural gas    Combined Carbon 

(Annual in kwhs)  (Annual in therms)    (Metric tons)

Average 1,500 ft2 house     12,000                   10                       8.9

Average 4,000 ft2 house     31,200                   18                     22.0

Increase (percent)               160                          76                      146


From a carbon emissions basis, the larger house uses 146 percent more carbon than the 1,500 square foot house.   The larger house is 167 percent larger in living space, but uses about 146 percent more carbon.  Thus, standard building or appliance efficiency does not overcome the effects of the larger living space.   A new larger house would need to cut its emissions by 146 percent and that would require solar panels, much better insulation, geothermal heating and cooling, and other passive building technology.

[1] The population of Arlington rose 9 percent from 207,000 to 225,000, according to Arlington County VA,  Profile 2018, and Profile 2008 https://arlingtonva.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/31/2018/04/2018Profile.pdf

[2] A therm is the heat value of natural gas; 100 cubic feet of gas (CCF) equal 1.036 therms.

[3]  U.S. Dept. of Energy,  “Household energy use in Virginia,” based on 2009 data,  www.eia.gov/consumption/residential

[4] Arlington County, “Quarterly Development Tracking Report,” for 2019, https://projects.arlingtonva.us/data-research/development/quarterly-tracking-report/

[5] Natural gas use data from Http://pemc.coop, and electricity use from https://comparepower.com/kwh-electricity-energy-usage-calculator/  Energy data were converted to carbon equivalents as follows:  1,000 therms equals 5.3 metric tons of carbon; 1,423 kwhs equals 1 metric ton of carbon.  Source:  EPA.