It is commonly accepted that the concentration of people in high-density urban city centers, which are typically dominated by medium- and high-rise buildings located close to public transit systems, offers greater overall energy efficiency and lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than lower-density expanded suburbs, which are dominated by low-rise single-family buildings and larger per-person automobile travel requirements. However, few studies have combined quantitative analyses of the life-cycle energy use of both buildings and transportation in both urban and suburban areas, especially in American cities. This work uses a variety of data sources to provide a quantitative comparison of the life-cycle energy consumption associated with residential life (including buildings, transportation, and supporting infrastructure) in prototypical downtown high-rises and suburban low-rises in and around Chicago, IL. We estimate that downtown high-rise living in Chicago, IL accounts for approximately 25% more life-cycle energy per person per year than suburban low-rise living, on average, contrary to some common beliefs (best estimates were ~141 and ~113 GJ/person/year, respectively). Building operational energy use was found to be the largest contributor of the total life-cycle energy in both the downtown high-rise and suburban low-rise cases, followed by vehicle operational energy.
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