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The History of Home Energy Use

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Throughout time we have powered our homes in various different ways, from huddling around the fireplace, to now creating electricity with nuclear and solar-powered machines.

Today, the world’s resources are depleting at rates so fast that energy suppliers cannot keep up. In addition to this, carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels are rising and destroying our atmosphere. Consequently, Americans are preparing for a more sustainable future by finding new ways to create cleaner and more efficient energy that will last.

The majority of the electricity that Americans use today is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oils. In order to continue supporting the massive energy consumption of our country, we will have to find a more efficient way to do so without harming the environment.

Many people have already taken steps in the right direction to bring clean energy into their homes. Do you know how energy is distributed in your home?

This visual from The Zebra breaks it down.

home energy use infographic

How home energy has advanced

In the last 150 years home energy consumption has exploded, and more energy is needed than ever to meet demands. Looking back at what we have used to power our homes, we can confidently say we have made some great strides.

1875: Wood

Up until 1875, wood was the first and only way to bring energy to your home. Wood was used to heat the house, cook food in the oven, and have indoor lighting. Being the only source of energy, it was used for just about everything.

1875–1950: Coal and wood

Coal was then introduced as a secondary way to power your home. Wood and coal were the two primary sources for producing energy in homes until the 1950s. Coal was an incredible substitute to wood because it burned longer and did not have to be collected as frequently. The United States (U.S.) actually has more coal than any other country, which explains why it has been used for power to this day.

1950–1960: Coal, oil, and gas

Natural gas and oil began powering homes in the 1950s. Fossil fuels like natural gas and oil are still used in many American households. Over the years, petroleum oil has actually been used the most in terms of total energy consumption. When they are brought to homes these fossil fuels are primarily used for space heating and water heating.

1961–Present: Electricity, oil, and gas

There are other ways to efficiently produce energy and heat in your home. Electricity was widely introduced into homes across the country in the 1960s. Electricity not only has more possibilities but is also more cost-effective and energy-efficient when it comes to powering your home. Furthermore, with Americans using more appliances, there is more electricity needed than ever before.

Home energy distribution today

Americans are using the majority of their energy to heat their homes. Space heating (42%) and water heating (18%) account for 60% of the energy used in homes today. Appliances and electronics account for 24%. The remaining 16% of energy is used for cooling, lighting, and refrigeration. As we discover new ways to use electricity, such as home charging stations for electric vehicles, the number of appliances that Americans own will increase and affect these numbers.

Appliances traditionally fueled by gas, like stoves and water heaters, can now be powered by electricity. Once there are cost-efficient ways to produce large amounts of electricity with renewable energy, there will be a huge decrease in the quantity of fossil fuels burned.

Americans have been burning fossil fuels for the last century, but after years of increasing emissions, there was finally a drop from 2016 to 2017, attributed to a switch towards renewable energy Though it is going to take some major overhauls, there are many positives to using more sustainable energy.

U.S. energy consumption over the years

Oil has been the largest energy contributor ever since it was used to power homes in the United States. Petroleum oil is burned and converted into electricity to heat our homes, but there are also many other things we use petroleum for, like fueling our cars and creating plastics and synthetic materials.

Coal has been declining for the last couple of decades as it has proven to be less efficient than other methods of generating energy. On the other hand, the use of renewables like wind and solar power have been increasing steadily. Nuclear power has also been on the rise since it began in the 1960s but will end up losing to renewables, mostly due to the harmful waste products associated with nuclear power generation. Nuclear energy is efficient and generates large amounts of electricity, but it also creates large amounts of nuclear waste that is troublesome to get rid of.

Becoming sustainable

Electricity is incredible and creates so many opportunities for us as humans. However, as we’ve found, there can be many repercussions to producing such large amounts of energy. These repercussions have spurred the creation generation methods that are both renewable and sustainable. Even with only 11% of U.S. energy being produced by renewable resources currently, there is predicted growth in the future, providing hope for reduced pollution and a much smaller carbon footprint. Here are a few examples that may form the future of energy generation.


You may have driven past massive windmills and seen them lined up across the horizon. Well, get ready for a lot more because wind is the fastest growing renewable energy source we have. Wind only costs between two and six cents per kilowatt-hour and creates tens of thousands of jobs. This is one of the cleanest sources of energy there has ever been, as one wind turbine can displace 1,800 tons of CO2 emissions per year compared to other energy sources.


Solar energy is also growing. It draws energy from the sun and converts it to electricity, meaning it is extremely clean and produces no emissions. Solar power is not only going to be sustainable, but also beneficial for job creation as 242,000 Americans are now working in solar energy jobs. The future outlook is promising too. Twenty-four states and Puerto Rico have implemented clean energy policies.


Geothermal energy is a unique way of creating power, as heat from inside the earth is used to create steam, and that steam is used to generate electricity. Generating energy this way can offset 22 million metric tons of CO2 emissions compared to coal-powered plants. Underground temperatures are relatively constant which makes this a reliable way to generate energy.

A cleaner world is on the way, but that cannot happen until everyone is on board. Over the years we have learned how to generate energy in new and efficient ways, and we must continue to progress. Currently, 83% of U.S. households use fossil fuels to produce electricity and that doesn’t add up to a sustainable future. We already see that some states require the use of renewable energy methods and your state may be next. The time to put renewable energy like wind, solar, and geothermal into homes is now, before it’s too late.