Overview of the Study

A recent study undertaken by Jonathan Rose Companies and funded by the EPA, “Location Efficiency and Housing Type—Boiling it Down to BTUs,” identifies certain housing factors that are significant variables for energy consumption and carbon emissions. In particular, the study finds that transit-oriented development, commonly abbreviated as “TOD,” is more efficient than conventional suburban development, and that multifamily and single-family attached homes are more efficient than single-family stand-alone homes. TOD, generally, is a mixed-use residential or commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport and/or a planning strategy in furtherance of the development thereof, which often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.

For example, if a household moved from a single-family detached home in a conventional suburban development to a comparable house in a transit-oriented development, its energy use would be reduced by 39 percent. On top of that reduction, if the household included energy efficiency measures and its residents drove a fuel-efficient car, total energy use would be reduced by 54 percent.

An even starker difference is seen when a multifamily home in a low-density development is compared to its transit-oriented counterpart—the household would consume 50 percent less energy by living in a higher density area with convenient access to public transit. With energy-efficient measures in the unit and use of a fuel-efficient car, savings would amount to a 64 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Significantly, the study also shows that housing location and type can outweigh the value added by energy-efficient building measures. Even the most efficient conventional, non-green suburban households lag behind the least efficient conventional transit oriented development. Based on these findings, the study encourages the implementation of sustainability techniques that consider both where and how development occurs in order to reduce household energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Implications of the Study

The study’s findings illustrate the need for an approach to planning that puts emphasis on housing location and type in addition to energy efficient development. Developers and planners should employ strategies of TOD, energy efficient homes and fuel efficient cars to contribute to an overall development approach that reduces energy consumption and carbon emissions.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (M.T.A.), for example, has already incorporated smart growth and TOD into its greater sustainability strategy. As stated in its October 29, 2008 Smart Growth/TOD Report:

“The mission of MTA’s Smart Growth and TOD program is to encourage the use of mass transit by supporting residential and commercial development within walking distance of transit stations, to reduce miles traveled in single occupancy vehicles and their environmental impacts and to increase MTA riders.”

In furtherance of this mission, the M.T.A. implemented a three-person Office of Transit-Oriented Development two years ago, which is tasked with spurring development around transit centers, mostly in suburban areas, and coordinating the interests of the various public and private entities that may become involved in large, privately financed transit improvements.