Study: Transit outperforms green buildings

New Urban Network

Transit-oriented development is the key to cutting energy consumption — even more so than Energy Star construction or green cars, according to a peer-reviewed study supported by EPA.

The report, Location Efficiency and Housing Type—Boiling it Down to BTUs, is summed up in the attached graph. The study examines the energy implications of the following scenerios:

1) Conventional suburban development (CSD) versus transit-oriented development (TOD)

2) Green building (Energy Star), versus conventional construction

3) Single-family versus multifamily residential units

4) Green versus conventional automobiles

No factor has a bigger impact than going from conventional suburban to transit-oriented design. Making that change alone results in a 50 percent reduction in energy use in multifamily buildings and 42 percent and 39 percent reductions in single family attached and detached dwellings. In fact, the most inefficient TOD beats the most efficient CSD in this study.

That said, green building and green automobiles make a significant contribution to reducing household energy use as well. If a typical suburban household were to adopt all four strategies — move to an efficient multifamily unit near transit and purchase a green car — they could reduce their energy consumption by 72 percent.

That scenario would suit some families but not others. Yet families don’t have to give up their choice of housing type to achieve significant reductions in energy use, according to the study, if a variety of multifamily and single family units are built near transit stations.

There are some caveats:

The study is based on national averages, so the individual family could do better or worse depending on their individual circumstances. Also, as the website Net Density points out, “Energy Star is not the most energy efficient way to build a home, but it’s relatively affordable and has large market share compared with other home rating systems.”