How to Reduce Your Home’s Carbon Footprint

This is a guest post by Justin Havre, a Calgary native and owner of Justin Havre & Associates.

A home’s carbon footprint is its impact on the environment, measured in the amount of carbon dioxide released in the process of operating that home. Excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere traps heat, accelerating the process of global climate change.

Reducing the carbon footprint of your property is good for the community, for the world, and even for your pocketbook. Improving sustainability can also make a house more desirable to home buyers in the event the home goes up for sale. Knowing how to reduce your carbon footprint can help make your home a better and more functional place to live.

Insulate

Many older homes had adequate insulation at the time of construction but are no longer up to our standards. You can determine whether or not your home has adequate insulation by going into the attic and checking whether or not the insulation is above the floor joists. If the floor joists are visible, adding more insulation will make your home more energy-efficient.

Insulating pipes is another good way to save money and energy. Insulating the hot-water pipes helps keep the water in the pipes warmer for longer, reducing wear and tear on your water heater. For this task, simply purchase long lengths of self-adhesive pipe insulation that’s the right size for your home’s plumbing, then cut down the insulation to the right size and apply it to the exposed pipes in your home.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats ensure that your home’s HVAC system will only run as much as needed. Program the thermostat to turn down the heat (or to allow a warmer temperature before the AC comes on) when people are sleeping or not at home. This will save money and improve the efficiency of your furnace and air conditioner.

Another smart way to use the programmable thermostat is to set it to a temperature that’s just one or two degrees off from your preferred temperature. Keeping your home slightly warmer in the summer or slightly cooler in the winter can cut back on the amount of time that your furnace and air conditioner will run.

Becca notes: We routinely program our thermostat to heat the house a little cooler than we’d like to be. Then, when we really feel uncomfortably cold, we’ll manually set it up a notch. This wastes less energy than just keeping it warmer all the time.  (We don’t have air conditioning.)

Be Smart With Lights

Turning off the lights when exiting a room saves electricity. In addition, replacing old incandescent light bulbs with LEDs or another type of energy efficient light bulb can save quite a bit of energy and money over years and decades. Some homeowners go the extra mile and utilize sensors to ensure lights aren’t on when nobody is around.

Practice Low-Water Landscaping

Low-water landscaping is a great way to cut back your home’s water usage. Depending on the size of your yard and type of watering systems, you can save a small amount of electricity by using your systems less often. Some of the best low-water landscaping uses native plants, which typically need only the water that falls when it rains. Other low-water landscaping strategies include:

  • Use mulch: Mulch helps contain moisture in the soil while also shading the roots around plants.
  • Keep thirsty plants together: Avoid scattering plants that need a lot of water throughout the yard, as this increases your watering needs all over the property.
  • Water your plants in the evening or early morning: Watering before the sun comes up or when the sun goes down reduces water lost to evaporation.

Replace Inefficient Appliances

Old, inefficient appliances are often found in homes that are not recently built to fit modern efficiency standards. In addition, most old appliances are less efficient now than they were when they were new. In other words, a lot of homeowners waste a lot of money and energy on old appliances. Replacing appliances with new ENERGY STAR models can help. Additionally, efficient appliances are a great improvement for sellers looking to add value to their property, so there’s really no reason to avoid this change.

Becca notes: Make sure to dispose of your old appliances responsibly!

Maintain Your HVAC System

Your home’s HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system can lose efficiency if it’s not well-maintained. To ensure that your furnace and air conditioner are running as well as they can, do the
following:

  • Replace the air filter every three months.
  • Clean the air conditioner condenser once annually.
  • Have the system tuned up annually. 

Unplug Appliances When Not In Use

Most appliances use a small amount of power when not in use. Unplugging appliances before leaving for long vacations can help save power and energy over time. 

Becca notes: Appliances that go unused for long periods when you’re home should be powered down, too. For example, if you watch a DVD every Friday night but usually not at other times, turn off the DVD player after your movie and leave it off until next time you want to use it. By “turn it off,” I don’t mean just press the power button so it goes into standby mode; you need to disconnect it from using any power at all. The easiest way to do this is to plug your infrequently-used appliance(s) into a power strip that has a switch, and turn off that switch when you’re done using the appliance(s). That way, you don’t have to crawl around pulling plugs out of outlets.

Reducing your home’s carbon footprint makes you a better citizen of the Earth, a more responsible homeowner, and a little bit richer at the end of the day. For more tips, check out the US EPA Household Carbon Footprint Calculator.

Visit Waste Less Wednesday and To Grandma’s House We Go for more great green tips!

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2 thoughts on “How to Reduce Your Home’s Carbon Footprint

  1. OK… you didn’t ask for my feedback here, but as a former home energy auditor for the state of Kansas, I’m going to weigh in.

    First of all, carbon footprint and climate impact are two related concepts, but they are not the same thing. There are eight other gases that have drastically more impact on climate change than carbon dioxide, notably methane (72x over 20 years) and nitrous oxide (298x over 100 years); chemicals used as refrigerants can have up to 20,700x the impact of CO2 over 500 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas#Global_warming_potential

    To reduce your release of methane into the atmosphere, there are a few things you can do: check your gas appliances to be sure the flames are blue and not yellow or orange; report any gas smell immediately (even if it’s in a restaurant or school kitchen); and eat less beef and cheese. To reduce your release of nitrous oxide, stop using chemical fertilizers in your lawn and garden, and whenever possible, buy organic produce and grains in particular rather than the chemically grown equivalents. And for the love of all that is holy, if your air conditioner or refrigerator or dehumidifier needs work, get it serviced or replaced by someone who will catch and recycle all the refrigerant.

    Second, insulating your home and turning down the thermostat are indeed effective ways of reducing energy use at home and reducing CO2 release. However, if you do these things in an older home without first sealing air leaks in the walls and ceiling, you can create significant mold hazards that will eventually make your family sick. Houses older than about 1970 were not designed to have the quantities of insulation that are now standard (and many that were built since then were done badly), and while most houses can be very effectively insulated, the first step is to seal air leaks in the walls and ceiling. It’s tempting to seal the doors and windows first, but these are the least important areas to seal because they are unlikely to grow mold! Get your house professionally inspected by someone who uses a blower door. There is no substitute. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blower_door

    Third, any measures you take to reduce CO2 emissions in your home can be completely undone by a single airplane flight across the country. If you must fly, resist the urge to book a convenient nonstop flight and let the airline send you on several short hops, as the CO2 and water vapor in jet exhaust are significantly more damaging to the climate when released at the high altitudes reached during longer flights. You may also choose to “offset” the climate impact of your flight through a service such as TerraPass: https://www.terrapass.com/

    Finally, to learn more about this subject, there is no better guide in my opinion than How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners Lee: https://profilebooks.com/how-bad-are-bananas.html

    • Thanks for the input, Ben! Carbon dioxide is indeed only one of the greenhouse gases we need to think about. I remembered what you said about insulation and thought about adding a note about that in the article, but I couldn’t think of how to explain it both briefly and accurately. Thanks for the information! (I just now realized that I forgot to mention what you read me about coffee from How Bad Are Bananas? in my recent article about coffee–I meant to work that in.)

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