In the December / January issue of Fine Homebuilding, Kevin Ireton has a fine article, “The American house: Where did we go wrong?” (Look for the link to the pdf with its slick layout.) In the piece, Ireton traces the history of house design and construction in this country, looking for those crossroads where we always seemed to take the turn toward greater dependence on fossil energy. One of those fateful points was passage of that bright jewel of the New Deal, the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. Ireton quotes a recently published book by Craig Toepfer:
Toepfer argues that this nascent industry of off-the-grid power generation was destroyed, or at least “stifled and held irrelevant for the past 90 years,” by the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. He writes, “In a monumental act of irrationality, justifiable only by a lack of knowledge or understanding, the federal government decided to do what no investorowned utility would even begin to consider doing, extending the central station wires from the major urban centers to every rural and remote part of the nation.” Once wires reached a farmhouse, “the REA required wind and farm electric systems to be removed or destroyed before the agency allowed them to connect.”
Ireton also describes the transformation of the American house that came with the advent of central air-conditioning. It ensured that households would become increasingly dependent on high-energy cooling, bringing us to our current predicament.