The Housing Chronicles Blog: Green homes in the area of home theaters

Friday, December 14, 2007

Green homes in the area of home theaters

Back in 2000, I met with Rich Lambros of the Building Industry Association of Southern California to discuss starting a council (or other such group) to focus on technology in the building industry (we ended up with the Technology Task Force). Part of that was certainly green building, but the group struggled to gain notice because most builders didn't want to hear about it: after years of muddling through the 1990s, the market was finally looking up and they didn't want to threaten their production schedules with anything too new.

For the next rebound, however, it'll likely be new technologies and green building that will help revive the building industry, so it's good to see so many magazine titles focusing on green building techniques and the large number of solar energy companies at the BIS Show.

And yet despite the best efforts to replace energy-hogging incandescent lightbulbs with florescent or even LED alternatives and to push Energy-Star compliant appliances whenever possible, it seems the insatiable appetite for larger, more impressive home theater systems may completely negate those gains.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Smith warns that prices for the largest TV sets are dropping so fast that what can appear like a bargain today can quickly be eaten up by future power bills:

"What scares us is the prices for plasma sets are dropping so fast that people are saying, why get a 42-inch plasma set when you can get a 60-inch or 64-inch one," says Tom Reddoch, director of energy efficiency for the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute's laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn., an independent organization that advises the utility sector. "They have no idea how much electricity these things consume."

Doug Johnson, senior director of technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association, says the industry is working to improve disclosure and energy efficiency. He says comparing television energy use to refrigerator energy use is "hackneyed," adding, "when was the last time the family gathered around the refrigerator to be entertained."

But consumers making an effort to go greener at home -- and who also want to ditch their bulky old TV set -- can be in a bit of a bind. The energy savings gleaned from swapping out incandescent light bulbs for energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights, for example, can easily be canceled out by the pileup in entertainment gear.

Currently, 11% to 13% of the average American household's electricity bill stems from consumer electronics. But that is projected to rise to 18% by 2015, according to the EPA, part of the Department of Energy.

So maybe as builders promote their own green building initiatives it'd also be useful to model more energy-efficient home theater systems (like using LCDs instead of plasmas), because all it takes is some 16-year-old know-it-all to suggest that marketing "green" may be little more than a simple gimmick.

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