Methane and Your Home

Methane and Your Home: What You Need to Know

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Nov 27, 2020

If you have been following the news at all in recent years, chances are you have heard quite a bit about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most of us understand that we need to limit the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere to keep climate change at an “acceptable” 1.5 degrees Celsius. Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas. But, emissions of methane gas could pose a severe threat as well.

While weaning our society off coal and oil is undoubtedly essential in the fight against climate change, understanding methane gas impacts is crucial, too. We need to comprehend the threat it poses and the sources of methane gas emissions, which are vital to creating a more sustainable civilization.

NASA polar bear
Photo Credit: NASA Climate Change

What is Methane Gas?

Methane gas is a carbon molecule surrounded by four hydrogen molecules. This colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas is not one of the primary gasses in our atmosphere. Methane ga is one of the most abundant elements on earth. Methane is the primary gas in what is commonly known as “natural gas,” which today heats close to half of the homes in the United States. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2019, the United States used roughly 31 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This is the equivalent of 24% of the total residential US energy consumption.

Does Methane Gas Contribute To Climate Change? 

While many homeowners today are making changes towards all-electric homes, natural gas continues to be the cheapest energy option in the United States. Over the past decade (and especially during the Obama years), US energy policy has been focused on shifting towards natural gas production as one of the primary fossil fuels used to power our national energy grid. Burning natural gas releases less carbon dioxide into the air than other fossil fuels such as coal or oil. Nonetheless, there is an enormous risk associated with methane leaks that impact climate change. 

Methane traps the heat of the sun and thus leads to the warming of our atmosphere. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane emissions are currently responsible for about 25 percent of all human-made global warming that we are experiencing. This significant contribution is because methane is much more potent than other greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change affirmed that methane has a global warming potential of thirty-four on a 100-year time scale. This rating means that it is 34 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than dioxide over 100 years. However, methane gas breaks down in the atmosphere relatively quickly, usually over 20 years or so. So, methane has a high global warming potential and can be 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions over twenty years. Most greenhouse gas reduction targets urge nations and industries to drastically cut their emissions within the next two to three decades. In the short run, the potency of methane emissions especially concerns, as these emissions could push us over a dangerous threshold. 

Methane bubbles from permafrost
Methane bubbles up from the thawed permafrost at the bottom of the thermokarst lake through the ice at its surface. Photo Credit: Katey Walter Anthony/ University of Alaska Fairbanks

The oil and natural gas industries are the largest emitters of methane emissions. The global warming that is already occurring could lead to dangerous feedback loops that could release enormous amounts of methane into our atmosphere. Specifically, the rapid warming of the Arctic region of our planet could lead to the melt of permafrost. These boggy areas, if thawed, would release dangerous amounts of methane. While it is hard to tell precisely how much methane could be released. But, satellite imagery has already spotted methane bubbling from the Arctic permafrost. A NASA-funded study found that in the mid-21st century, the climate impact may result in an influx of permafrost-derived methane into the atmosphere. This is not currently accounted for in climate projections.

What Are The Sources of Methane Gas from the Home and Lifestyles?

The largest sources of methane emissions come from the energy sector, landfills, hydroelectric dams, and livestock. We will discuss each of these in detail below.

Coal Mine

Energy

According to the US EIA, “the energy sector—including coal mining, natural gas systems, petroleum systems, and stationary and mobile combustion—is the largest source of US methane emissions.” As we mentioned above, natural gas systems are among the largest sources of methane emissions from the energy sector. It can be hard to calculate precisely how much methane is released during natural gas drilling or fracking because it is odorless. According to one study, methane losses and leaks along the entire supply line need to be kept below 3.2 percent if natural gas power plants are going to have lower life cycle emissions than new coal plants over 20 years.

Landfill

Landfills

Landfills are another significant source of methane emissions. Landfill gas is a natural spin-off of the decay process and is composed of about 50 percent methane. Most of this methane comes from a mixture of inorganic and organic waste. Homeowners who do not separate their organic waste or recycle are also contributing to large amounts of methane emissions emitted from landfills.

Hydroelectric Dam

Hydroelectric Power Plants

Large hydroelectric power plants worldwide are also responsible for methane emissions, mostly due to vegetation, sediment, and soil that flows into reservoirs and eventually decomposes. A Washington State University study finds that methane makes up 80 percent of the emissions from water storage reservoirs created by dams. While hydropower is usually viewed as a clean, renewable energy source, the methane emissions from massive reservoirs are not included in global greenhouse gas inventories.

Livestock

Livestock

Methane emissions also stem from the worldwide livestock industry. Not only is livestock farming and ranching responsible for an enormous amount of deforestation, but methane is also produced in the guts of livestock such as cows, sheep, and goats. Sheep can produce about 30 liters of methane each day, and a dairy cow up to about 200 liters. This methane is emitted through digestion and waste. In one year, then, cows can release between 70 and 120 kg of methane gas, and all ruminant livestock are responsible for about two billion metric tons of CO2-equivalents per year.

What Can You Do To Lower Your Methane Emissions?

Homeowners might hear about carbon zero homes or lowering their carbon footprint. It could be time also to start thinking about decreasing our methane footprint and creating methane-free homes. Here are some suggestions to help reduce the methane emissions associated with your home and lifestyle. 

Induction Range Plaid Fox
Induction Range. Photo Credit: Plaid Fox

Go All-Electric

Today, there are several electrical sources of efficient heating, including heat pumps and baseboard heaters. Gas-powered dryers can be replaced with electric air or condensing dryers.

Invest in Rooftop Solar Panels

Solar panels can provide all the energy you need to heat, cool, and power your home. To minimize the size of solar array you require, perform all the energy-efficiency upgrades you can. 

Generate Alternative Sources of Renewable Energy

Wind turbines and home-scale micro hydropower plants are another way to get your home the energy it needs - without relying on large projects such as mega-dams. 

Compost

Compost Your Organic Trash

Even people with small backyards can set up a backyard compost pilevermicomposting bin, or bokashi fermentation system. This step will help you avoid methane emissions from landfills. Recycling and reducing your inorganic sources of trash is also essential. If your city picks up organics, you can separate those as well and forgo your compost pile.

Plant Based Food

Eat Less Meat

Eating less meat will also help to reduce your overall methane emissions. If you still want an occasional hamburger, locally produced, grass-fed meat will have lower emissions than corn-fed animals raised in feedlots, or transported from around the globe. 

These are all actions that can make a difference, and if we all do a little bit, it can add up to significant and much-needed change.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-06-17T02:55:13+0000