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Thank you so much for writing this brilliant article, Brian! It's about time that someone brought up the rebound effect.

We have a more urgent need than ever to curb demand, buy locally and live within our means. Great work, as always, including your amazing photos that we always enjoy!

Ian Manire

I wonder how longevity, aka loveability or cultural sustainability, plays into the returns on energy investment equation. One way of effectively reducing demand is to reduce demand for the merely new, in favor of the good. That doesn't work with power, obviously; but for the material investment and the energy required toward material uses, surely there's a point past which it's "all profit," as it were.

And that's surely where preservation and traditional new design comes into play--people might not tear down and rebuild for novelty's sake (or more ironically, to build a new "green" building in its place) that which they actually value culturally--which lets the material value of a building really pay off.

Those buildings are also in a better position to continue functioning in a reduced- or post-HVAC-obsessed world. With real wall mass, reasonable openings-to-wall ratios, high ceilings, operable windows and transoms, etc., they will be more comfortable than the hermetically sealed, totally AC-dependent post-War buildings, when the real costs of energy resources start to really be considered.

Excellent post, with a lot to consider.


This certainly has been shown to be true with fuel efficiency in vehicles. People get a more fuel efficient vehicle and they tend to drive more...

I am not sure this is really true with energy efficiency in general.

Are we building more buildings *because* they are energy efficient? Are people buying more refrigerators *because* they are energy efficient? Did people get big screen TVs *because* they are energy efficient?

Or is there something else driving the increased adoption, and better efficiency is either a selling point or a government mandate?

I have always had two refrigerators. The increased efficiency has not made me go buy additional ones, but it has made the two that we have consume much less energy.

I don't know anyone who has gone out and bought an air conditioner because they consume less energy now than 50 years ago.. I know people who put in air conditioning because they didn't like being hot.

I bought a new TV because our old one broke. Not because the new LED one I bought uses less energy than the old one. People I know with more than 5 TVs (and I know a few) don't have so many because - "hey now they are efficient!" - they have more TVs because they wanted TVs all over their house. In fact, I would wager that some of their TVs are *less* efficient than older models (the first few generation Plasma TVs sucked electricity like no TV before!).

No one builds an *Extra* building because it can bee LEED compliant. We build buildings because we need/want the buildings.

The new XBox 360 is more efficient than the original, and the new iMac is more efficient than older models. But people are not buying them because they are more efficient, people buy them because they want to play the latest games or have a nice new computer.

Since people are buying, building, and using - why not make them as efficient as possible? If I am gonna have a TV anyway, I might as well have one that consumes less energy. If we are gonna have buildings, might as well make them LEED...

And actually, in California at least - because of the higher efficiency of products - California per-capita energy consumption has been trending slowly downward even as the totoal energy consumption has been trending upward.

Did you buy a computer because they can be energy efficient, or did you buy a computer because you could read and respond to blogs with it?

Now transportation fuel is an entirely different beast... We definitely ship more stuff and drive more and whatnot as efficiency increases...


Interesting post Brian and great insight Ian. There's definitely something to be said about how older buildings reduce consumption simply because they still exist. Studies have shown that pre-1920 construction is often as energy efficient as what gets built today. It gets even better when those older buildings are rehabilitated - as in the recent upgrades to the Morgan Building in Downtown. Imagine that, a system that tells you when to open or close the windows rather than complete reliance upon HVAC systems.

On the refrigeration note, The size of our fridges here in the states are crazy compared to most of those in Europe. Part of that has to do with what we insist on refrigerating needlessly. As someone who lives in an older house, I had a heck of a time finding a modern fridge that would actually fit in our kitchen. Most of those on the US market are made more efficient because they include massive amounts of insulation - making their physical size ridiculous.

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