A household’s carbon footprint is an estimation of that home’s greenhouse gas emissions. Calculating the carbon footprint of any household requires the consideration of a number of factors. Some environmental groups estimate that about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions individuals are responsible for are generated at home. Eric Carlson, the executive director of Carbonfund.org, would like to see households reduce their carbon footprint by up to 80% over the next 40 years.
Greenhouse gases are named as such because they trap heat, which warms the atmosphere and creates a greenhouse-like effect on the planet. According to the EPA, carbon dioxide accounts for the majority of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. However, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases are also released into the atmosphere in significant quantities. The length of time these gases stay in the atmosphere varies. Most of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is caused by human activities; burning fossil fuels to meet power needs is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Calculating Carbon Footprints
A number of websites will calculate a household’s carbon footprint based on data entered by homeowners. These calculators give the most accurate estimate if homeowners have recent power and electricity bills available. The calculators consider a variety of factors, including the amount of natural gas, propane, fuel oil and electricity used in a home. Vehicle use and recycling habits are other factors used in many calculations. The calculator on the EPA’s website also suggests ways to reduce emissions, and then calculates the energy savings that a household would gain if those actions are taken.
Largest Sources of Household Emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions result from the use of any kind of electricity or heat. Wood-burning heat sources are considered environmentally friendly. Some appliances use a lot more power than others do. Water heaters, clothes dryers, and refrigerators/freezers use the most power, while smaller appliances such as DVD players and hairdryers use much less.
Reducing Residential Emissions
A number of changes can reduce a household’s carbon footprint. These changes often lead to lower energy costs, too. Replacing inefficient appliances with newer household appliances that have the EPA’s Energy Star label will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Using a programmable thermostat and lowering the heat when residents are sleeping or away from home will also reduce a home’s carbon footprint. Other ways to reduce emissions include insulating hot water heaters, turning off lights and unplugging appliances that are not being used.