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Forgotten survey of a thousand households in Los Angeles/Orange County

La-La Land, Circa 1970


“… the ownership of luxury items – dishwashers, clothes dryers, air conditioners, etc. – is particularly sensitive to income level.”

Welcome to the Los Angeles/Orange County area in 1970.

We found in the Library of Congress this remarkable survey of consumers’ adoption of machines, appliance and devices as of forty-six years ago.

Forty-seven percent of households had a color television.  Sixty-nine percent had a black and white TV.

Income level really mattered.  Seventy-five percent of the wealthiest households had color sets, while eighteen percent of the poorest had color sets.

As many as thirty-three percent of households had a refrigerator without a freezer.  Fifty-nine percent had a washing machine, so forty-one percent didn’t.


As for a clothes dryer, just fifteen percent had one.  Eighty-five percent didn’t.

Twenty-four percent had a dishwasher.  Income really mattered here too.  Sixty-three percent of the wealthiest had a dishwasher, while six percent of the poorest had one.

Twenty-two percent had a room air conditioner.  Not that much.  Just seven percent had central air.

Some appliances were more popular in those days than now.  Fifty-three percent of households had an electric fry pan.  Forty-four percent had a waffle grill.

The consumption of electricity for lighting averaged eighty watt-hours per hour per household.  But for the poorest households the average was only twenty-seven watt-hours per hour.  It was nearly a hundred fifty watt-hours per hour for the wealthiest.  

These levels of consumption for lighting are half or less than half, compared to today’s levels.  

The average now, nationally, is nearly two hundred watt-hours per hour.  In California, however, it’s lower, a hundred sixty watt-hours per hour.    

And yet people relied on energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs in 1970.  The number of lights in a home, and their usage, was apparently far less.  

The increased efficiency of refrigerators has paid off.  In 1970, a refrigerator required eighty to a hundred thirty watt-hours per hour.  Depending on whether it had a freezer or not.  

In 2016, a refrigerator requires fifty to sixty watt-hours per hour.  They all have freezers, and many features unknown forty-six years ago.

Total electricity consumption in 1970 was five hundred and fifty watt-hours per hour per household in Los Angeles/Orange County.  Total consumption now is higher, not surprisingly.  

It's now around seven hundred sixty watt-hours per hour per household in California.  Nationally, consumption per home is over sixty percent higher than in California.


Number-crunching courtesy of Public Utilities Fortnightly.

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly
E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com

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