By Diane Maceachern
Moms Clean Air Force
The Clean Power Plan just hit the national register. It’s goal: to see America’s power plants reduce the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide they emit by 32%.
Utilities have until 2030 to achieve that objective. But as people who care right now about the world we’re creating for our kids and grandkids, we don’t have to wait. We can create our own Clean Power Plan by changing some things we do around the house and by taking advantage of affordable technologies that will help us.
First, Know How Much Energy You Use, and Where
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, here is how most homeowners use energy:
Space Heating – 49%
Appliances & Lighting – 23%
Water Heating – 16%
Electric A/C – 7%
Refrigerator – 5%
But what does that mean in terms of average household carbon dioxide emissions?
The Cool Climate project at the University of California – Berkeley makes it easy for you to ballpark the total amount of CO2 your household generates here. Just roll your cursor over the map of the U.S. until you get to your location, and you can see how many metric tons of CO2 average households in your area generate.
For example, households in my zip code generate an average of 77 tons of CO2 a year. I want to reduce my carbon footprint by 30%, so I am aiming for an annual reduction of about 23 tons.
Like most households, my household uses the most energy (not including transportation) on heating and cooling combined. The big opportunity for us is in tolerating warmer temperatures in summer and cooler temperatures in winter. Our home is already well insulated, so we can’t do much on that score. But we can adjust our temperatures up and down, then use fans more than the AC when it’s hot out, and draw the blinds against the beating sun during the day. In the winter, we can wear warmer clothes. We can also caulk and weather strip doors and windows, and keep the blinds and curtains closed at night, when it’s particularly chilly.
The Power Scorecard shows how much carbon dioxide you can save depending on the action you take. Look at the options below. What mix of steps work for you and your family to reduce your carbon footprint by 30%?
- Insulate your walls and ceilings. Savings: 20-30% of home heating bills, reduce CO2 emissions by up to 1 ton a year. If you live in a colder climate, consider superinsulating. Gas-heated homes will save as much as 5.5 tons of CO2 annually. Oil-heated homes could reduce CO2 emissions by 8.8 tons per year. And electric-heated homes could reduce their carbon footprint by a whopping 23 tons per year if they’re superinsulated – though, says the Power Scorecard, it would make even more sense to switch to a more efficient heating system. Take advantage of no- or low-cost energy audits provided by local utility companies to get specific recommendations on how much insulation you need. If you want to be really ambitious, switch to solar or wind power.
- Weatherize your home or apartment, using caulk and weather stripping to plug air leaks around doors and windows. You could save up to 1100 pounds, or a little more than half a ton of CO2 per year for a typical home.
- Don’t overheat or overcool. In the winter, can you live with a thermostat set at 68 degrees in daytime (especially when you’re not home) and 55 at night when you go to sleep? In summer, can you keep the temp at 78? Lowering your thermostat just two degrees during winter can save almost half a ton of CO2 per year. Replacing your air filters regularly can save another 175 pounds of CO2 annually.
- Plant shade trees and paint your house a light color if you live in a warm climate, or a dark color if you live in colder climes. These simple steps could save you up to 2.4 tons of CO2 emissions each year. BONUS: Each tree also directly absorbs about 25 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere annually.
- Be energy-smart when it comes to using your appliances. Refrigerators account for about 20% of household electricity use. The interior temperature should be set to around 37 degrees, and the freezer to 3 degrees. Make sure the doors on the refrigerator close tightly and that the coils stay clean. If your fridge has an energy saver switch, turn it on. If your fridge is older than ten years, consider replacing it with the most energy-efficient model in the size you need and the price range you can afford. Many utilities will actually give you a cash rebate for upgrading your refrigerator; they’ll also pay you to take it away and recycle it for you. For any new appliance you buy, choose an ENERGY STAR model.
- Run dishwashers, clothes washers, and clothes dryers when they’re full. Don’t wash and dry clothes just because you’ve worn them once! Wait until they’re actually dirty or stinky before throwing them in the laundry and you can save nearly a half-ton of CO2 every year. Don’t forget to wash clothes in cold water for additional savings.
- Use less hot water by installing low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators. One low-flower shower head costs between $10 and $20, and will save about 300 pounds of CO2 per year if you heat your water electrically, or 80 pounds of CO2 if you use gas.
- Switch to LED light bulbs. LEDs are highly efficient lights that use far less energy than conventional incandescent bulbs, halogens and even compact fluorescents (CFLs). Replacing one halogen with one LED will reduce your carbon footprint by a little more than half a ton over the lifetime of the bulb. Multiply that savings times the number of bulbs you replace to make a real dent in how much carbon your household generates.
- One of the fastest ways to get to your 30% less household carbon goal is by driving less. Every gallon of gasoline you DON’T burn reduces your carbon emission by 22 pounds. If your car gets 25 miles per gallon and you reduce the number of miles you drive each year from 12,000 to 10,000, you’ll save almost a ton of CO2. Walk, bike, car pool, use mass transit and/or telecommute to achieve this goal, with the added benefit that you’ll help clean up the air, too.
- If you need a new car, choose the most efficient model in your price range that also meets your needs. If your new car gets 40 MPG instead of 25, and you drive 10,000 miles/hr, you’ll reduce your annual CO2 emissions by 3,300 pounds, about a ton and 1/3.
Hopefully, you can see that with a little intentional planning, there are many ways you can generate 30% less carbon dioxide. But here’s another benefit of starting today to come up with your own clean power plan: you’ll save money, too. Every gallon of gas you don’t burn or every kilowatt of electricity you don’t use is like putting money in the bank.
How To Create Your Own Power Plan:
- Set a goal to reduce household energy consumption by 30%. Get everyone in your household to commit to doing his/her part – the best way to succeed is by working together!
- Ballpark how much carbon your household likely generates so you have a specific number to aim for. If your house on average generates 50 tons of CO2 annually, a 30% reduction if 15 tons.
- Identify where your household uses the most energy (and thus, can reduce the most carbon).
- Consider the many ways you can save energy: choose those that offer the biggest bang for the buck, given the changes you can afford to make.
- Come up with a plan and a timeline. When will you get an energy audit? How many light bulbs will you replace with LEDs. Who is going to research your options for recycling your old refrigerator and getting a new one?
- Get going! Keep track of your changes, both in terms of CO2 saved and regarding how much money you save.
Let us know. Please share what you do and how you do it with the Moms Clean Air Force community. Your success will inspire all of us to do our part!