MORRIS AND JAMES CAREY \ On the House Bigger houses mean bigger energy bills

All over the country, subdivision lots are getting smaller and the houses that are built on them are getting bigger -- much bigger.
Where a subdivision home in the '60s topped out at about 1,400 square feet, today we are seeing 4,400-square-foot homes being built.
Big is now commonplace. First, there were two bathrooms instead of only one. Then there were two and a half baths and then three. Kitchens got bigger and fancier and somewhere along the line secondary living quarters became a part of the equation. Now we are seeing all the features we just mentioned plus two family rooms and 30-foot ceilings.
And the bedroom count is going up. Six bedrooms, five and a half baths -- no big deal.
What's going on? Are families getting bigger? Fact is, it doesn't really make any difference. Because when it comes to a big home, you better get ready to start writing checks more often and for greater amounts -- lots of checks.
Three-dimensional thinking
First, you need to know that you will be writing a much larger check to the utility company. If you haven't figured it out yet, no matter how modern and energy-efficient the home, the more area there is to heat and cool -- and the more it will cost to heat and cool it.
The increase in floor area is only one factor. Ceiling height is another; 10- to 24-foot-high ceilings are becoming more and more commonplace, but high ceilings can be a heating and cooling nightmare. Keep in mind that a 24-foot-high ceiling is three times the height of a standard 8-foot-high ceiling found in the average home. Heating and cooling costs are directly proportional to the volume of the space you live in. More floor area means more cost; more height even more cost.
Your energy cost also can be affected by the number of windows. And this includes the modern energy-efficient, insulated kind. More windows than necessary can mean horrendous heating and cooling bills.
Shivering heights
Nothing looks better when you walk into a home than an enormous entry (lots of floor space), a really high ceiling (way up there) and lots of glass everywhere (in doors or windows) that looks out onto the landscape in the backyard. However, there isn't a window made that is as energy-efficient as a properly insulated wall. So, as you plan an addition, a move -- now or in the future -- keep in mind that just because it is energy-efficient doesn't mean that you can use more without a cost increase.
Remember these points:
UMore floor space equals more heating and cooling cost.
UMore ceiling height equals more heating and cooling cost.
UMore glass in doors and windows (or skylights) means more heating and cooling cost.
Yes, you can save on energy costs by having a home that is modern and in compliance with all of the latest energy requirements. However, if your current home is 1,800 square feet and your new home will be 3,600 square feet -- even with energy-efficient upgrades -- the energy cost in the larger place will come with a certain degree of sticker shock.
Here's how to get an edge on the issue:
UAsk the builder for a cost summary on heating and cooling costs for the model you want to purchase.
UAsk the neighbors who have a similar home about their monthly cost.
Family matters
Keep in mind that when you speak with individuals that no two people or families use the exact same amount of energy, but there are qualifying questions that will help you to make your determination as you interview the neighbors:
UFind out how many people are in the family. More people equals more energy use. Compare family size to your own.
UIf your prospective neighbor doesn't feel it is too personal, ask about cooling habits, showering habits, clothes washing and the use of the dishwasher as well. It will surprise you to find that more use of these items will mean substantially higher energy bills.
UAsk about how many refrigerators are in the home and if there is a separate freezer as well. Refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners are big-time energy users.
UFind out if someone is home all day every day. When everyone in the family is gone all day long, the energy bill will be lower if a setback thermostat is used.
UObserve the window coverings. Heavy window coverings can help to keep a house cooler in the summer. In the winter, ask the owners if they leave the drapes open to let in heat from the sun.
UCheck to see that the register covers are flowing freely. This simple detail can change the way the system operates. If air flow is restricted, there is a very good chance that energy costs will be higher in that home.
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Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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