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There are many ways you save energy and reduce CO2 emissions at home. Finding more efficient and less costly ways to heat, cool, and light up your home, and run your appliances, can help to reduce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2)-- a primary contributor to global warming. Large- scale solutions, such as developing cleaner energy sources nationwide, are also crucial. But individual consumers also can take steps that will make a difference.
What size is your carbon footprint? According to recent government estimates, the average carbon footprint -- the CO2 emissions associated with a particular lifestyle -- for a two-person household is about 42,000 pounds (22 tons) each year. Since that amount will vary depending on where you live and your particular lifestyle, you can get a personalized estimate by using an online carbon footprint calculator.
Start saving carbon at home. Below is a list of steps you can take to reduce CO2 emissions by potentially thousands of pounds. For each action below, we've indicated the amount of CO2 and money that you can save over the course of a year. Actions are prioritized by those with the largest CO2-savings at the top of the list to the smallest at the end. That way, you'll have a framework for choosing the most effective ways to reduce your "carbon footprint."
What you can do at home Approximate Annual Savings
Switch to green power CO2-savings: Up to 10,656 pounds*
Cost-savings: (Typically costs more)
Conventional energy production is the leading cause of air pollution and largest source of CO2 emissions linked to global warming. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that for every kilowatt-hour of green power produced, one less pound of CO2 is emitted. When compared with conventional power generated from fossil fuels, green power generated from renewable resources like water, wind, and solar energy is better for the environment.
Seal and insulate duct system CO2-savings: Up to 8,593 pounds*
Cost-savings: Up to $246 (natural gas)
Up to $374 (oil)
Up to $712 (electricity)
Sealing the ducts in your home and insulating any portions that pass through unconditioned spaces, such as the attic, basement, or garage, could reduce CO2 emissions and your heating and cooling costs by up to 40 percent.
Replace an old water heater CO2-savings: Up to 3,285 pounds
Cost-savings: Up to $94 (natural gas)
Up to $143 (oil)
Up to $272 (electricity)
- About 13% of a typical household's energy is used for heating water. By choosing a newer hot water heater model-- which are 10 percent more efficient than conventional models-- you can reduce CO2 emission by about 3,285 pounds annually.
Control heating temperatures CO2-savings: About 2,493 pounds*
Cost-savings: About $71 (natural gas)
About $108 (oil)
About $207 (electricity)
- For every degree you lower your thermostat, you can cut energy use by about 3 percent. By lowering the heat by 5 degrees for 8 hours at night and 10 degrees for 8 hours during the day, for example, you can save about 2,493 pounds of CO2 annually.
Choose an energy-efficient central air conditioner CO2-savings: About 1,540 pounds
Cost-savings: About $123
- Most homes have a central air conditioning unit with a 10 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating). By choosing a new Energy Star qualified unit with a SEER of 14, you can reduce CO2 emissions by about 1,540 pounds annually, assuming it's on for 1,320 cooling hours, or 8 hours a day for 5-6 months. And make sure that your contractor does the sizing calculations so you don't install a unit that's too big; it will cost more and require larger ducts to handle its higher airflow. The unit also may fail to provide the expected comfort.
Control your hot water heater temperature CO2-savings: Up to 788 pounds*
Cost-savings: Up to $23 (natural gas)
Up to $34 (oil)
Up to $65 (electricity)
- For every 10 degrees you reduce your hot water heater's temperature, CO2 emissions are reduced by about 3-5 percent, or 733 pounds annually. Setting the thermostat at about 120 degrees, or between low and medium, is a reasonable temperature. And if your hot water heater is less than 10 years old, you don't need to buy an insulated blanket for it-- the newer units have enough insulation to make the extra layer unnecessary.
Put your computer to sleep CO2-savings: About 576 pounds
Cost-savings: About $48
- In the computer and monitor models recently tested by Consumer Reports, letting the system sleep for 12 hours out of every 24 would save about 576 pounds of CO2 annually. Obviously turning off the computer will save the most energy, but newer computers - those made within the last three years - use so little energy in sleep/standby mode that you don't need to actually shut it down during daily use. And note that screen savers do not actually save energy.
Replace 5 regular bulbs with compact fluorescents CO2-savings: About 500 pounds
Cost-savings: About $41
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. By strategically replacing at least 5 heavily used 75-watt incandescent bulbs with 5 25-watt CFLs, you can reduce CO2 emissions. By using CFLs especially in places that are less accessible, like stairway fixtures, you can also get the benefits of less frequent changes because CFLs last from 5 to 13 times longer than standard bulbs, according to manufacturer's claims. While CFLs initially cost more, a single bulb can save from $25 to $45 over its life. Be aware that they do contain mercury, however, and should be carefully disposed.
Control air conditioning temperatures CO2-savings: About 438 pounds*
Cost-savings: About $36
- For every degree you raise your thermostat, you can cut energy use by about 3 percent. By increasing the temperature by 3 degrees, you can save about 378 pounds of CO2 per year. Note that using a ceiling fan with your air conditioning can make a higher thermostat setting less noticeable by making your room feel 6 or 7 degrees cooler.
Choose an energy-efficient washing machine CO2-savings: About 356 pounds
Cost-savings: About $29
- By choosing an Energy Star qualified washing machine over a conventional model, you can reduce emissions by about 356 pounds annually, assuming 392 loads per year. Consumer Reports recommends front-loading machines for the best all-around performance and their tests show that the most efficient machines can cut water consumption by about 25 percent compared with the least efficient models tested. Initially a front-loader may cost more than a top loading washing machine, but the extra cost will be paid back in a few years in energy savings. If a top-loader works better for you, there are some high-efficiency models available in this type too.
Choose an energy-efficient room air conditioner CO2-savings: About 105 pounds
Cost-savings: About $9
- Replacing a single window unit with a new Energy Star certified model over a conventional model can reduce CO2 emissions by about 105 pounds annually, assuming it's on for 750 hours, or about 8 hours a day over three months.
Choose an energy-efficient refrigerator CO2-savings: About 98 pounds
Cost-savings: About $8
- If your refrigerator is more than 10 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star qualified model can reduce CO2 emissions. Also, note that top or bottom freezer models are generally the most efficient models.
CO2-savings calculation assumptions: A gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO2; a gallon of fuel oil, 22 pounds; a therm of natural gas, 12 pounds; a kilowatt-hour of electricity, 1.4 pounds.
Cost-savings calculation assumptions: A gallon of gasoline costs $2.36; a gallon of fuel oil, $2.48; A thousand cubic feet of natural gas (mcf), $12.11; a kilowatt-hour of electricity, 11.6 cents.
*Based on national averages from the Department of Energy's 2005 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, the most recent survey available.
Last updated July 2009