(855) 321-7473

M-F 9am-5pm Eastern

reducing the carbon footprint of your home

Reduce Your Home's Carbon Footprint: Top 5 Tips

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jul 8, 2021

The term carbon footprint is widely used across various industries, businesses, and economic sectors today. When purchasing an airline ticket online, you might be asked if you want to spend a little more to offset the carbon footprint associated with your flight. Several websites exist today where you can calculate the carbon footprint of your home and lifestyle. But this is a complicated topic, and many of us don't truly understand what a carbon footprint is and how we can offset this footprint to help reverse global climate change. Below, we briefly explain what a carbon footprint is and offer five guidelines for how individual homeowners can offset the carbon footprint of their homes.

Carbon Footprint

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide or other carbon compounds produced from the consumption of fossil fuels. As the effects of global climate change become ever more apparent and ominous, individuals, organizations, and governments are assuming responsibility to limit the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses emitted as a result of our daily activities. A carbon footprint can refer to how much carbon dioxide we cumulatively produce from all our activities or just from certain products or pursuits.

For example, international air travel is widely known to be one of the most concentrated sources of carbon emissions. One round trip flight from New York to Europe or San Francisco has a carbon footprint of 2-3 tons of CO2 per person. You can calculate the total carbon footprint of each flight you take with this easy-to-use online carbon calculator.

In the case of the homes we live in, a carbon footprint measures

  1. Embodied Energy - The amount of energy that was used to construct the home
  2. Operational Energy - The amount of energy needed to heat, cool, light, and power the home

An American's average carbon footprint is around 20 metric tons - five times greater than the world average of 4 metric tons. Much of that footprint is related to the cars we drive, the food we eat, and the trips we take. But, the commercial and residential building sector accounts for a formidable almost 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in the US. It is essential to understand the impact buildings have on our environment and quality of life. We also need to recognize that the homes we build and live in have carbon footprints that contribute to global climate change.

renovation tools

Why Renovate Instead of Building New to Reduce Carbon?

While new homes tend to be much less energy-intensive to operate, there is an enormous carbon footprint associated with the construction process itself. A new home might limit your energy expenditures by half through improved thermal performance, energy-saving fixtures, and even passive house design. A UK study found that a newly built, small, two-bedroom cottage would contribute over 80 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Compare this to only 8 tons of carbon dioxide emissions for a complete home renovation.

If you live in an older, energy-inefficient home, consider renovating instead of tearing it down to build from scratch. This low-carbon retrofit strategy will not only lower your carbon footprint by minimizing your monthly electricity use but will also help you avoid the carbon footprint associated with the building of a new home.


How Do HVAC Upgrades Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioners (HVAC) account for 40% of all carbon emissions associated with a home. So, one of the most impactful changes you can make to reduce your home's carbon footprint is opting for more energy-efficient HVAC systems and moving away from fossil-fuel-burning furnaces (even high-efficiency options). Consider going all-electric with a geothermal or air-source heat pump.

Programmable or smart thermostats will further reduce your impact by allowing you to let the system run hotter or cooler (depending on the season) and at a reduced capacity while you are not home. This scheduling helps reduce energy bills and the associated fossil fuels that your home would have burned to make that energy.

While indoor air quality is certainly important, it isn't necessarily essential to have your home constantly ventilated by outside air that needs to be heated or cooled. Sensors that monitor your indoor air quality will help you determine when your home needs to be ventilated. A well-insulated home where you can control ventilation is almost always much less energy-intensive to heat and cool.

solar panels on house

Why Install Renewable Energy to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Perhaps most important, investing in renewable energy technologies is a very impactful step in lowering your home's carbon footprint. While making advances in energy efficiency is certainly important, it is only possible to reduce a certain amount of the energy your home uses. Even the most energy-efficient home will need some heating, cooling, and lighting, all of which require energy.

Deciding to produce all or a part of the energy your home uses through renewable energy technologies can significantly cut back on your home's carbon footprint. Solar and wind energies, to name just two familiar sources of renewable energy, operate carbon-free. While there is an obvious cost to investing in renewable energies, and carbon expended in their production, these technologies are increasingly more affordable. There are also many tax credits, as well as financing and leasing options available. 

Old Purple Kale

How Does Composting Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Carbon dioxide is considered to be the main culprit for global climate change. What may surprise you is that other greenhouse gasses are more potent and dangerous when released into the atmosphere. Though methane accounts for a much smaller percentage of total emissions, it is 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than CO2.

The EPA estimates that over 15% of all methane gas emissions in the country come from municipal landfills. In these landfills, anaerobic bacteria begin the process of decomposing organic waste to produce biogas. This gas consists of methane and carbon dioxide, both of which are greenhouse gases and contribute to global climate change. By choosing to compost your organic waste at home, you can help to limit this anaerobic decomposition process that occurs in landfills. Instead of methane and CO2, the byproduct of composting your kitchen scraps is rich soil fertilizer you can apply to your vegetable garden or flower beds.

electric car charging

How Do Electric Vehicles Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

The transportation sector accounts for 27% of all US GHG emissions from fossil fuels. While transportation is not generally associated with people's homes, your home's location and the vehicle you drive can significantly affect carbon emissions. Though walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation is the best option for reducing your carbon footprints, electric cars can also help. Engines that run on gasoline will always burn fossil fuels. Electric motors that draw power from the utility grid are less carbon-intensive and are getting cleaner, as electricity grids invest more in renewable energy. So, if you are renovating your garage, it's a good idea to make sure the electrical outlet is capable of charging an electric vehicle.

By choosing to follow these five simple guidelines, you can significantly reduce your home's carbon footprint.

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: 2021-07-09T15:19:04+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.