Woodborne Design - Residential Design

My Home Can Help Reduce My Carbon Footprint?

Whether you are considering a home addition, renovation or are planning to build a new home, there are a vast number of opportunities to help reduce your carbon footprint and help improve the environment in which we live. Decisions that you make during the planning and construction phase for your home can have a lasting effect on your carbon footprint for decades to come.

Perhaps you aren’t familiar with your carbon footprint or aren’t even sure what a carbon footprint is. Your carbon footprint is the sum of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere as a result of your daily life……commuting, sheltering your family and eating, usually measured in tons per year. Although there are others, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas that we emit. The EPA’s website states that “Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), solid waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of other chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement).” The amount of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere directly influences how much of the sun’s heat stays in the atmosphere, which is a key factor in climate change. Our goal as environmentally responsible citizens should be to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.

So, for starters, if you’re going to reduce your carbon dioxide output, how do you determine what your carbon footprint is? There are numerous carbon footprint calculators available on the internet. Two that I’ve found easy to use are available at Carbon Footprint.com http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx and on the EPA website. http://epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html You may find it very enlightening to spend fifteen minutes and determine what the carbon footprint is for you and your family.

If you’ve worked through one of the online carbon footprint calculators and you know what your carbon impact is, what can you do to reduce it? The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do in and around your home that will help reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. Two major areas for carbon dioxide reduction are energy conservation and recycling. Not only will reducing your energy consumption help reduce your greenhouse gas emissions but it will save you money on your monthly energy bills year after year.

The chart below provided by the carbonfootprint.com website is a very good graphic of what activities in your life create greenhouse gas emissions. According to carbonfootprint.com, “A carbon footprint is made up of the sum of two parts, the primary footprint (shown by the green slices of the pie chart) and the secondary footprint (shown as the yellow slices).
1. The primary footprint is a measure of our direct emissions of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels including domestic energy consumption and transportation (e.g. car and plane). We have direct control of these.
2. The secondary footprint is a measure of the indirect CO2 emissions from the whole lifecycle of products we use - those associated with their manufacture and eventual breakdown. To put it very simply – the more we buy the more emissions will be caused on our behalf.”
The pie chart above shows the main elements which
make up the total of a typical person's carbon footprint in the developed world.

Now that we have a better understanding about carbon footprints and greenhouse emissions, let’s explore some of the ways that we can reduce emissions in our homes.

1. Efficiently heat and cool your home.
    a. First and foremost, remodel or build your new home with a really tight, well insulated envelope.
    b. Purchase and install high efficiency heating and cooling mechanical systems.
2. Use Renewable Energy
    a. Solar thermal and solar PV systems
    b. Wind turbines
3. Energy Efficient Lighting – CFL bulbs throughout your home.
4. ENERGY STAR Appliances & Electronics
5. Unplug Equipment Not In Regular Use
    a. Computers
    b. Battery chargers
6. Reduce Energy Used for Hot Water
    a. Insulate your existing water heater
    b. Install an “on demand” water heater
    c. Solar thermal system – very cost effective.
    d. Reduce your shower time or bath water gallons
    e. Hot water can consume 20-30% of your monthly energy costs
7. Recycle
8. Repair older equipment and furniture rather than buying new items
9. Install a gray water system

Based on the pie chart above, about 36% of our emission debt is due to our housing. If you are building an addition, doing a major renovation or building a new home, give some serious consideration to the long term added value of these and other energy reduction systems. Not only will you live more comfortably and save money on your monthly bills, but your home will increase in value due to its energy efficiency.........and you'll reduce your carbon footprint.