The Gulf Oil Spill vs. Home Energy Retrofits

Did we even need to drill the Deepwater Horizon oil well to begin with? Actually, no. There are over 100 million homes in the U.S. Most of them use energy inefficiently because they’re not well insulated, sealed and set up. The energy contained in the biggest oil spill in U.S. history is equal to the energy that just 75,000 homes waste in a single year.

Seventy-five thousand homes represent less than 0.1 percent of all single-family homes in the U.S. or the number of homes in a single mid-sized U.S. city, like Providence, R.I., or Chattanooga, Tenn. Doing energy retrofits to make those homes efficient would save the equivalent of the entire Gulf Oil Spill every year on a permanent basis.

Comparing the Costs of the Oil Clean-Up to Wasting Less at Home

No one really knows how much it’ll end up costing to clean up the disaster created by the Gulf Oil Spill. And when a final number is calculated, years from now, there’s no way that it’ll take into account the true extent of the environmental damage that the oil spill has created. But even in the preliminary estimates made before the oil has finished flowing, the cost is expected to exceed $40 billion.

How does that compare to doing 75,000 home energy retrofits? Less than $1 billion. And those retrofits – using low-tech and low-cost techniques like better insulation, air sealing, replacing furnaces with more efficient versions – are permanent. And those 75,000 retrofits save energy year after year. Every year that goes by, those 75,000 homes will save the equivalent energy of the entire Gulf Oil Spill.

How’d we figure this out?

The Gulf Oil Spill has leaked somewhere between 25 million and 50 million gallons of oil into the ocean so far – depending on which estimates you believe. In addition, a nearly equivalent amount of natural gas has escaped: we’re not counting that energy in our calculations. The oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico alone represents approximately 4 million MMBtu’s (million British Thermal Units) of energy.

For comparison’s sake, the average U.S. home consumes about 170 MMBtu’s in a year when you factor in the costs of generating all forms of energy used. This varies widely from region to region, but it’s a good rule of thumb. An efficient home, however, uses only 120 MMBtu’s on average each year. So doing an energy retrofit to a home saves an average of 50 MMBtu’s per year per home.

The calculations all have a pretty large margin of error – since no one really knows how fast the oil is leaking, how much is already in the water, or how much more will spill before the leak is plugged.

Is your house wasting energy?

You can find out pretty easily. There’s a quick online energy efficiency estimate tool at that you can use to find out where your home stands. If you’re looking to do a home energy retrofit to become more efficient, make sure you take advantage of all the utility energy rebates and government tax credits designed to help pay for it.

About Scott

Scott Case has expertise in online marketing technologies and software product management from five years at aQuantive, where he led product management and marketing for Microsoft/aQuantive's ad serving tools. Scott has a BA in Economics and Political Science from Williams College and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

3 Responses to The Gulf Oil Spill vs. Home Energy Retrofits

  1. steven hall says:

    Finally a great comparison. Now please do some others.

    How many BTUs would come from a producing deep well annually? How would that compare home energy requirements and what could be saved from energy retrofits.

    Here’s another. There are 70 billion square feet of commercial space in the US that according to USGBC [Environmental Information Administration (2008). EIA Annual Energy Outlook]
    consume 40% of primary energy in the US. Energy retrofits can reduce easily by 30%. How many deep wells does that equal?

    Seems like we are drilling in the wrong place. We must publicize these facts.

  2. Enviroman says:

    The oil spill is nothing to laugh at but I just saw a kid wearing a t-shirt that cracked me up. BP – We’re bring oil to America’s shores. I died laughing because BP’s billion dollar image change to their new sunflower logo is forever going to be associated with the worst environmental disaster to strike America. Check out the shirt here –

  3. Great to put it all into perspective – the oil spill was one huge disaster but people forget that the same kind of energy loss is going on every second and accumulatively it’s just as much of a disaster.

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