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Illustration by James Steinberg

Energy
Super Size My House

Along with our waistlines, the girth of American homes has been inching up, even though the typical family is now a lean 2.6 people. Two-thirds of Americans live in single-family homes, and during the past 30 years, new ones have ballooned by about 45 percent, from an average of 1,700 square feet to 2,469 square feet. Chalk it up to the proliferation of McMansions: Three decades ago only 12 percent of new homes were larger than 2,400 square feet; by 2006, that number had risen to 44 percent, with the extra space being used for more bedrooms, additional bathrooms, media rooms, and kitchen nooks. Unsurprisingly, bigger digs require more energy. Central air systems have become standard, contributing not only to larger fuel and electricity bills but also to a 25 percent spike in residential carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2006. According to Jonathan Koomey, an energy policy specialist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California, the increase in energy consumption is due to “a confluence of key factors: new homes are getting bigger, people are richer, and they have more gadgets.”—Kristin Elise Phillips

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