American homes are growing and consuming more electricity

American homes are sucking more and more energy, contributing to a cycle of rising prices that is putting a financial crunch on poor and fixed-income families. In 1970, the average new home was 1,500 square feet; in 2003, it was 2,230 square feet. Even that startling statistic obscures the fact that for America’s rich and upper-middle class, huge suburban McMansions in the 5,000- to 8,000-square-foot range are now the norm. Despite the Energy Star appliances and improved insulation, these homes are using vast amounts of energy. It’s not unusual for such homes to sport a second or third refrigerator, plasma televisions, decorative natural-gas fireplaces, multiple computers, and who-knows-how-many chargers for cell phones, PDAs, and other widgets. And then there’s demand for heated water to feed the growing number of multiple-head showers, Jacuzzis, and indoor pools. Natural gas prices are up 11 percent from last year and are expected to keep rising; home heating oil is up 60 percent; propane’s up 30 percent. Home energy costs represent a bigger and bigger chunk of income for low-income families, with no end in sight.