Reduce the Carbon Footprint You Didn't Know You Had

footprints in the sand

February 8, 2017

Everyone has a carbon footprint. Activities as simple as commuting to work, heating and cooling a home, running a refrigerator, and even taking a hot shower can contribute to the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. All of these activities, plus many others that people engage in on a daily basis, require energy. And many forms used today – coal, natural gas, oil – release harmful CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

Obviously, these daily tasks are a necessary part of modern life. What can you do, then, if you want to be more environmentally friendly? Perhaps you could take only cold showers and buy non-perishable food that does not need to be refrigerated, but those are extreme measures. Luckily, such drastic changes are not the only ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Simple Changes Can Be Very Effective

Some of the methods for lowering carbon emissions are quite simple. According to Texas A&M University, swapping out a single incandescent light bulb for a compact fluorescent one will reduce a home’s carbon emissions by approximately 150 pounds per year. A&M also suggests using only cold water to wash clothes and, rather than giving up hot showers, installing a low-flow showerhead. Together, these two strategies for reducing hot water usage will save an average of 850 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year. The university goes on to say that if a homeowner adjusts their thermostat a mere two degrees, they will lower their house’s emissions by a ton – a whole 2,000 pounds of CO2.

The ideal carbon-lowering temperature, according to the Texas A&M research, is 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer. Not only are these ideas beneficial for reducing your home’s contribution to air pollution, but they also have financial advantages. A reduction in energy consumption means lower energy costs, giving you another compelling reason to make the simple efficiency improvements that A&M suggests.

More Footprint-Reducing Ideas

What improvements should you start with? A quick Google search might give you some ideas about creating a lighter carbon footprint, but which improvements will bring the biggest CO2 reduction depends on each home’s specific efficiency issues.

The book, How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, by Joanna Yarrow not only offers tips to help homeowners improve their efficiency, it also provides insight about how to tell what improvements are actually necessary. For example, Yarrow says that a way to see if the door seal should be changed is to open the door and put a piece of paper against the frame.

When you close the door, the paper should remain held in place between the door and the frame. If it slips down, it is time to change the seal around the door. Yarrow also claims that cleaning is important.

Placing the refrigerator in a cool place (away from the stove, furnace vents, and hot water heater) and keeping the coils in the back free from dust can lower energy consumption and costs by as much as 30 percent. According to Yarrow, another step is to set the temperature inside the fridge between 37 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer to 5 degrees. These are the optimal settings for keeping food safely chilled or frozen. Temperatures colder than this will consume more energy, but they will not make food any safer.

Opt For the Most Energy-Efficient Appliances

For most people, forgoing a refrigerator, stove, or air conditioner is not an option. Yes, these do contribute to monthly energy costs and increase CO2 emissions, but homeowners can reduce their utility costs and pollution levels significantly by being wise when upgrading their appliances. The Huffington Post points out that the dual benefit of less carbon output and lower energy costs can apply to major appliances. Energy Star certified refrigerators, dishwashers, air conditioners, furnaces, and water heaters require the minimum amount of energy necessary to perform their tasks. Therefore, they can operate at the lowest possible cost, and still produce less CO2 emissions than non-certified models.

If you decide to replace an old refrigerator with a newer, Energy Star certified model, you can save an average of $43 per year on energy costs. Furthermore, the more efficient fridge will lower the home’s carbon emissions by an average of 443 pounds per year. (The Huffington Post cites the EPA for this estimate).

Energy Star certified appliances may also qualify for special funding programs. Such programs, including PACE financing, help homeowners afford efficiency upgrades for their property. PACE programs, for example, provide financing for a new, Energy Star certified appliance. The homeowner then pays for the upgrade over time on their annual property tax bill, without having to pay any money upfront.

What About Renewable Energy?

Solar power is developing quickly. SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association, estimated in 2014 that the United States is offsetting 16.8 million metric tons of CO2 annually with its current solar power capacity. Tax incentives and financing programs make it more realistic for homeowners to afford solar upgrades – providing a means to lower their CO2 emissions as well as their energy costs.

Many states also have net metering laws, which allow homes with solar power to feed excess energy back into the electricity grid, which is then dispersed to all utility customers on that power grid. By giving their neighbors access to clean energy, solar system owners can actually have a negative carbon Solar system owners can actually have a negative carbon footprint in terms of their electricity consumption.

The Eco Guide says that solar panels are a “zero emission” source of energy. The panels themselves emit little to no CO2. Using the annual per-house average of 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year, the Eco Guide notes that the average home with solar panels saves about 16,000 pounds of CO2 from being emitted. The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator gives a similar figure, suggesting that 11,000 kilowatt-hours of energy would produce roughly 8.5 tons or 17,000 pounds of CO2. This data shows that solar power can be a very effective way to reduce a home’s carbon footprint.

What If I Don't Want to Go 'All Solar?'

While tax incentives, net metering, and financing programs can make the switch to solar power financially feasible, such an improvement might seem like too big of a leap. Is it possible, then, to go partly solar? Yes, it is. Certain appliances require a lot of energy to use. Homeowners can target specific functions to effectively reduce their carbon footprint without going “all solar.” According to the Department of Energy, a solar water heater can reduce water heating costs and energy consumption by 50 to 80 percent, depending on the model and home water usage. The agency also estimates that the average savings on water heating bills – $15 per month – is more than the financing payments for a solar heater, when current federal tax incentives are included in the equation.

Awareness is the First Step to Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Everyday tasks can add a great deal of carbon to the atmosphere. Homeowners who are aware of all the ways their home consumes energy can take steps to lower their consumption and, in the process, lower their carbon footprint as well. Simple steps can help lower a home’s CO2 output, but those who want to take larger actions can find special financing programs like PACE to help them significantly lower their carbon footprint and decrease their energy costs.

Discover how PACE financing can help you unlock the benefits of energy conservation – call Ygrene at (855) 901-3999 or email: