In general, one of the most effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions is to decrease the proportion of our electricity generated from fossil fuels. About 70 percent of electricity in the U.S. currently comes from fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil, which release significant quantities of CO2. While large-scale changes by electrical utilities and other industry-wide improvements in energy efficiency are needed to curb CO2 emissions, there are many steps individuals can take at home right now.
According to recent government estimates, an individual’s CO2 emissions are about 22,000 pounds (11 tons) on average 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 thousands of pounds. The list will help you set priorities because it’s arranged from the largest to the smallest amount of CO2 that you can save. In the future, we plan to expand this list to include potential dollar savings on your energy bills. That way, you’ll have a framework for choosing the most affordable and most effective ways to reduce your “carbon footprint”.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SAVE CARBON AT HOME
1. Seal and insulate duct system
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.
2. Replace an old hot water heater
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 emissions by about 3,285 pounds annually.
3. Control heating temperatures
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 3,150 pounds of CO2 annually.
4. Choose an energy-efficient central air conditioner
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.
5. Control your hot water heater temperature
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.
6. Put your computer to sleep
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.
7. Replace 5 regular bulbs with compact fluorescents
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. Check Earth911 for a Zip-code searchable listing of local disposal and recycling options.
8. Control air conditioning temperatures
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.
9. Choose an energy-efficient washing machine
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 our 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. To find the most efficient model that meets your needs, check our Green Ratings.
10. Choose an energy-efficient room air conditioner
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. To find the most efficient model that meets your needs, check our Green Ratings.
11. Choose an energy-efficient refrigerator
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. To find the most efficient model that meets your needs, check our Green Ratings.