It is widely accepted that the concentration of people living in high-density city centers offers greater operational energy efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions than lower-density expanded suburbs. The prevailing assumption is that lower-density suburbs are dominated by larger low-rise buildings that have higher building energy use requirements and greater per-person automobile travel requirements than high-density city centers dominated by medium- and high-rise buildings located in close proximity to a variety of public transit systems. However, very few studies to date have utilized empirical data at an individual household scale to evaluate differences in the operational energy (OE) footprints for both building and transportation energy end-uses between high-rise urban and low-rise suburban households. Therefore, this work collects empirical data on building and transportation OE consumption by individuals and households living in two economically similar groups: existing high-rise residential buildings in downtown Chicago, IL, USA and existing low-rise residential buildings in suburban Oak Park, IL, USA. Data were collected from over 500 households via an online survey. We considered the following components of residential living: (1) building OE (BOE), which includes electricity and/or natural gas use for all building energy end-uses; and (2) transportation OE (TOE), which includes the OE for multiple modes of transportation (i.e.
, automobile, bus, subway, regional train, etc.
) based on average travel behavior in each location, as well as the OE for supporting transportation infrastructure. We estimate that downtown high-rise living in this sample of residences in Chicago, IL accounts for approximately 427 GJ of primary OE per household per year, on average, which was 14% lower than the average for suburban low-rise living in the Oak Park, IL homes (499 GJ per household per year). However, on a per-person basis, downtown high-rise living accounts for approximately 246 GJ of primary OE per person per year, which was approximately 61% higher than suburban low-rise living (153 GJ per person per year). In both building types, building OE was the single largest contributor to total OE use. This study accurately captured the energy requirements associated with realistic behaviors and lifestyles of occupants of both low-rise suburban and high-rise urban households, and found that building OE dominates the total OE, which suggests that efforts to reduce building OE should be given high priority in building design and management as well as urban planning.
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