How We Use Energy at Home (1850-Present)

Guest blog by Amanda Tallent: Although the principle of wanting warmth and light in our homes has been constant, the way that we provide these necessities has evolved tremendously over the last 150 years. This makes the future exciting to think about, as we are finding new ways to be sustainable yet innovative when it comes to providing energy in the United States and globally. The team at The Zebra has given insight on the topic, sharing the history and probable future of energy use. 

From Wood to Oil, Gas, and Electricity 

Using the heater has been, and still is, one of the most dominant uses of energy in U.S. homes. At first, we burned wood to produce fuel. As the 1800s progressed, coal was introduced. It was an alternative that took up less space while being able to reach high temperatures in a shorter amount of time. By 1961, coal was mostly replaced with oil and gas, something that we still predominately still use today. While providing us with many solutions, petroleum comes from the finite amount of fossil fuels the Earth has and is also harmful to the environment. This leads us to the expansion of turning to renewable energy. 

What is Renewable Energy? 

Renewable energy is “clean” energy that can be replenished or restored, compared to fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal). Some examples of renewable energy are wind, solar and geothermal. 

Wind is not only renewable but provides us with a clean, non-polluting option; making it one of the fastest-growing renewable energy. With a wind turbine, the wind is transformed into mechanical energy that we can use for electricity. Solar energy takes the heat and light that the sun provides and turns it into energy. With geothermal, we can get heat from under the ground of the earth. This method has been improving with engineers creating geothermal wells drilled many miles into the surface to produce energy. The three alternatives to fossil fuels will lead to a less-polluted planet. 

Energy in Our Homes

Every month, you’re paying for your utilities. From water to electricity, plus natural gas in some cases, the list goes on. By reducing the amount of electricity and water you use at home, there’s also less demand for those resources. Turning off the lights when not being used may seem like a small task, but if done on a large scale, it can result in a great global impact. The way we get energy is changing, yes, but the amount we use is also increasing yearly. 

Looking at the way we use energy in our homes, the top three include space heating, appliances/electronics, and water heating. Being cognizant of the amount you use in your home can be beneficial on a global scale. 

Where Do We Get Our Energy From in the U.S.? 

The leading source of energy in the United States is petroleum, mainly used for fueling our transportation, and is a nonrenewable source. However, there seems to be a rise in electric cars which might cause a downfall in petroleum use. Although helpful, petroleum leads to polluted air and has been toxic to the environment. 

Following petroleum is natural gas, another nonrenewable source. Natural gas is predominately used for electricity and making plastic. In our homes, natural gas is used for ovens, stoves and clothes dryers along with space and water heating. The third source of energy used in the U.S. is coal, which is also mainly used to convert into electricity. Producing sulfur, which produces acid rain and carbon dioxide, this method is also not an environmentally-friendly one. Use of coal is decreasing, but it is still one of the top on the list. 

Renewable resources, although not the most common yet, are one of the fastest-growing options when it comes to getting energy. 

In our homes, it has become second nature to turn all the lights on, crank up the air conditioning constantly and take long, hot showers. That being said, there has been a growing demand for energy. This has left us with a need for an eco-friendly, efficient route for energy consumption, and to make cut-backs when it comes to electricity and fuel use. 

If you want to learn more about the timeline of energy usage in the United States, past and present, the infographic below from The Zebra has great visuals on the subject.

home energy use infographic


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