Portland Goes Green in the Seventies – Our Home History

When we conjure up images of the 1973 Energy Crisis, we typically imagine hitchhiking businessmen and lines at the gas pump longer than those outside downtown’s latest nameless nightclub on a Friday night. But this energy crisis also shaped new home construction in key ways beyond shag carpeting and mirrored closet doors. We became more green.
The previous decade’s lavish vaulted ceilings gave way to more modest dwelling dimensions, shrinking square-footage for the sake of energy efficiency. This sudden shift in our reliance on cheap and limitless power cropped our confidence, breathing life into several more cost-cutting construction strategies that would continue for the entire life of the home.
Awnings become popular window coverings, proven to drop ambient home temperatures between ten and twenty degrees in the summer, while still ushering in that precious, low-angled winter sun.

The ranch home felt its last warm architectural embrace as we clung to it for its uncomplicated, slim-profile roof. Fewer flourishes meant fewer opportunities for leaks and thus, more economical repair and maintenance.
While our green tendencies stemmed from financial necessity than the more future-thinking globally noble ideals we claim today, the way we design homes now is paralleled most closely by the 1970s. Modern residential energy consumption today has dipped back down to levels they were when bell bottoms were in fashion (barring a few brief and arguably unfortunate resurgences). This may seem counter-intuitive, considering forty years of advancements in energy efficiency, but the average modern home boasts a footprint half again the size of its 1970s counterpart. Additionally, we walk around covered in technology that charges while we sleep. And the smart money says your plasma television draws more power than even a deluxe turntable. If you’re seeking a more detailed breakdown of modern energy consumption versus the 1970s, check out this helpful article by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

All told, homes of this era are enjoying a renaissance in Portland. Everyone appreciates greener living (even the hardy cork floors of the decade were harvested from sustainable living trees) and baby boomers often enjoy the single-level stair-free residences of the era. As much as we pat ourselves on the backs for our contemporary earth-conscious energy habits, it’s important to remember they began over forty years ago.
< Left Photo | The freshly completed Fremont Bridge opened on November 15,1973. The raising of its center span earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the heaviest lift ever completed.

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