7 pocket-friendly ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your home

You don't need to break the bank to be environment-friendly.
Ameya Paleja

Concerned about the disastrous impact of climate change and want to do something about it? Shifting to an EV might be on your mind, but with the rising prices of these vehicles, the shift to going greener will burn a bigger hole in your pocket. Improving insulation in the house or switching to a heat pump are also recommended steps, but with fears of recession, that might be a big financial commitment to take up now.

However, the decision to go greener does not have to be so overbearing. You can drastically reduce your carbon footprint with some simple tweaks around the house. This may not achieve a 100% carbon-neutral home, but it will likely help you reduce the carbon emissions and help you be more environment-friendly in the long run. 

Before we get into the "how-to reduce your carbon footprint" part, it might be prudent to first check how big your home's carbon footprint is. The Environmental Protection Agency has a useful household carbon calculator that can help you determine how much carbon your home and your activities might generate every year, depending on your area. 

Using the calculator is pretty straightforward. You just need to fill in a few boxes with details such as the number of people in your household, your energy bills, the number of cars you own, the miles you drive regularly, and the waste you generated in the house. The calculator also suggests ways of reducing your emissions and how much carbon emissions will a particular activity help in reducing. 

When aiming for a lower-carbon home, you have several options for helping you reduce your carbon emissions. So, here are a few ways to make a few changes to bring that number down. 

1. Lighting up the house

It is easy to get used to the way your house is arranged and continue living in the space with the nice extra lights that you bought at the supermarket. However, small changes to how your furniture is set up, depending on where you spend most of your time inside the house, can deliver energy savings that accumulate over the long term. 

Right lighting in the right places could make a world of difference
Source: Patrcik Schneider/Unsplash

Shifting your active spaces closer to windows, where there is ample natural light available can help you delay putting the lights on when you are at home. This might need you to move the furniture around a little bit, but it will also see a drop in your electricity consumption, perhaps more than you expect.

If you are still using incandescent lighting in some places of your home, shifting to LEDs will also lower your electricity consumption. Do remember, though, that to go greener, you do not necessarily have to switch all your lighting in one day. You can simply buy LED lights and switch them out when the older bulbs burn out.

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2. Greener electricity

Unless you live off the grid, the power supplied to your house likely comes from a mix of energy sources such as natural gas, nuclear, renewables, and/or coal-fired plants. Utility companies are in the process of transitioning to using more renewable sources of energy.

The total power generation from renewables in the region is likely to vary depending on where you live. However, some utility companies might have taken the lead on this. Switching to such a utility company would mean that the power supplied to your house produces lesser carbon emissions than your current supplier. 

To know if such a switch is possible in your area, you can find the availability of green power generation companies in your location and how you can access them. If you would like to be more confident in your choices, choose listings that are Green-e certified, which ensures that energy supplied to your home meets "the most stringent environmental and consumer protection standards in North America"

3. Greener appliances

It may not be possible for everybody to switch to a greener utility company right away. Even those living in California, where at times, renewable energy has met 100 percent of the power demand, know that on a regular day, some amount of their power is likely to come from non-renewable sources. 

You can also shrink your footprint by choosing appliances that consume less energy. Modern technology can help us improve even our day-to-day activities. Something as simple as heating water to make a cup of tea can be made much more energy efficient by switching to newer devices that are more efficient. 

Companies like Heatworks are rethinking everyday devices like the electric kettle and the dishwasher to allow you to carry out these tasks using less electricity while also saving water. By replacing the metal heating elements with electronic controls and graphite electrodes, these new generation of appliances can help you reduce annual maintenance costs and energy usage. 

But it is not just the conventional home essentials that could do with a replacement. A desktop computer that may have served you well over the years is also a power-hungry device when compared to a modern-day laptop.  With many functions of work now digital, a desktop computer needs to largely stay on and could be expanding your carbon footprint every hour. In fact, it's a good idea to turn off older cable boxes, older DVRs, and devices with a non-LED standby light when not in use - those little lights can add up when on 24/7. Look for the Energy Star label when buying newer devices. Energy Star-approved products use little to no energy when idle.

Laptops are greener than desktops
Source: Tarn Nguyen/Unsplash

Laptops consume less power while working and offer power-saving modes when not needed, so they can spring back into action rapidly when demanded. If you are looking to replace your computer, a laptop is definitely a more eco-friendly choice but you can also make it a greener one by picking one of the carbon-neutral options that are now available. 

TCO-certified laptops (certified by the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees as maintaining ecological standards and are sufficiently ergonomic to prevent long-term health issues for users) have a lower environmental impact right from their production to disposal. You can also pick a company refurbished laptop that comes with the same warranties as a new one but provides a new lease of life to the equipment rather than sending it to a landfill. 

4. Green roof cover 

In addition to the appliances inside your home, the structure itself could be made with more environmentally friendly materials. Even if you are not looking at a major home refurbishment project in the near future, changes to your roof can help you move towards a lower carbon emission home. 

A green or living roof cover works as a great insulator and prevents the escape of heat during the winter months to keep your home warm and save you carbon emissions from heating. During summer, the same roof prevents heat from getting in and keeps the house cooler, and can even save you the expense of installing an air-conditioner. 

Additionally, a living roof also increases the roof's life and helps prevent the heat-island effect, often seen in urban spaces and resulting from buildings absorbing heat and then radiating it out. A green roof cover can also help to improve the quality of the air locally, and the added vegetation also attracts butterflies, pollinators, and birds to the site.

Switching to a new roof can be expensive and require some additions to your existing roof like a drainage system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average green roof costs start at about $10 per square foot for a simple extensive living roof, rising to around $30 per square foot for intensive roofs, However, if you are game for a DIY project, these things can be achieved at a fraction of the cost. Always check first to make sure that DIY living roofs are allowed by your city or Home Owners Association.  Here's a video to help you understand what a living roof installation requires.


5. Generating your own energy

If you are open to making a few changes around the house, why not generate your own energy as well? If installing a solar panel is too big a commitment, or if your house is not suitable for solar, you can consider putting up a wind turbine of your own instead.

Small yet effective wind turbines can even be bought from online marketplaces like Amazon. These might not generate enough energy to power up your entire house, but could go some way towards lowering your carbon footprint, to begin with. In the future, you could scale up to a bigger turbine if your location and area regulations permit it. 

If you are looking for a more DIY option in this space this summer, here's an interesting project for you. You will need access to a 3D printer, but everything else you need is highlighted in the video below.


6. Generating your own biogas 

If generating power for your home in an environment-friendly way is giving you goosebumps, imagine the elation when you can fuel your home without tapping into fossil fuels. A garden-based biogas system could help do exactly that. 

You might have come across large biogas systems that are used in residential or office buildings to reduce carbon emissions. You will be surprised to know that a single household can convert enough food waste to biogas to save a lot of carbon emissions every year.   

Not just that, a home-based biogas system could also provide you with many liters of liquid fertilizer every month that you can use in your garden or even on the green roof cover you might be planning. These systems are also available in varying sizes to suit small, medium, and large-sized homes and are supplied with detailed instructions on how to assemble and use the unit. 

7. Countertop composter

In case, you are still looking for small steps towards generating less carbon in your home, you can help tackle food waste and carbon emissions from landfills right on the kitchen countertop. Yes, you read that right. 

Going greener does not necessarily have to be a massive project that needs you to redo the roof or rewire the house. A small toaster oven-sized device sitting in your kitchen can also help. This device takes only a couple of hours to convert food waste into garden compost. What's even better is that the entire operation is odorless, so you don't have to be worried about using it the day you are expecting some friends over. Rather, this can be something to talk about.