Think you can’t go green because you live in a budget city apartment — and can’t afford expensive LED light bulbs or install a water-efficient dishwasher? Your cheapo ways are actually smarter and greener than you’re giving yourself credit for. Turns out, highly touted energy-efficiency measures don’t make as much of a green difference as the location and type of house you live in.

That’s the finding of a study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and conducted by Jonathan Rose Companies, titled Location Efficiency and Housing Type – Boiling it Down to BTUs. Don’t stop reading. You don’t have to know what BTUs are to understand the conclusion, which is basically this: “While energy-efficiency measures in homes and vehicles can make a notable improvement in consumption, the impact is considerably less dramatic than the gains possible offered by housing type and location efficiency.”

The 17-page report is actually a pretty engaging and fast read, with charts that make it easy for you to visualize energy savings. The report compares three factors: the type of home, the location of that home (in relation to transit), and the energy-efficient measures taken in the home. All factors matter, but the location of the home matters most. The type of home — with a single-family detached home being the most wasteful and a multi-family residence being the most efficient — is second most important. Energy efficiency measures — including buying a more fuel-efficient car — placed a distant third in importance!

So if you live in a single-family detached home and drive your Prius everywhere — and are really serious about reducing your carbon footprint — your best bet for greening your lifestyle is moving to a multi-family residence in a walkable and bikeable area near a transit line.

There is a caveat: The report relies on estimates by the Energy Star for Homes program to get its numbers for energy-efficient measures in homes, but those numbers don’t reflect “energy savings that could be gained by use of state-of-the-art energy-efficient building technologies, such as high-performance building envelopes, photovoltaic panels, or ‘smart sensors’ that detect and redirect energy in unused rooms.” If you have the money to consider such hi-tech energy-efficiency options, your lonely detached house in the ‘burbs might come closer to matching the greeness of homes in transit-oriented development.

But what this report really shows that you don’t need a lot of green to go green. The report goes on to talk about the potential money savings of these eco-friendly home choices too, but you’re likely already aware of the fact that gas, car maintenance and insurance, and long traffic jams are big money and time suckers. After all, another report has already found that choosing to live in a more “affordable” home farther away from work often makes you pay more in transportation costs than you would have saved in housing costs.

[via Treehugger]

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