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5 High-Impact Ways You Can Fight Climate Change at Home

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, where do you start? Will setting your air conditioner to 78 degrees on a hot summer day have a significant impact? What about eating only organic food, or composting? 

A recent New York Times quiz proves that most of us aren’t sure which actions will have the greatest impact on our carbon footprints. And there may be some self-interest driving our misconceptions: most of us would rather believe recycling, which is easy to do, has a significant impact, and we’d like to believe that giving up meat, which many people find difficult, wouldn’t make that much difference. 

Most of us aren’t sure which actions will have the greatest impact on our carbon footprints, and there may be some self-interest driving our misconceptions.

Unfortunately, the reverse is true. In many cases, making a significant dent in your carbon footprint requires some significant lifestyle changes. In fact, the biggest thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint involves one of the biggest, and most personal, choices any person makes: choose to have one fewer child, and you’ll reduce your carbon footprint by almost 60 tons. 

There is one exception to this rule: your home. Your home accounts for more than one-third of your total carbon footprint. About 25% of the carbon emissions from your home come from the electricity and fuel required to heat, cool, and power your house. And here’s the good news: you can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your home without making any changes to your lifestyle.

Let’s take a closer look at 5 high-impact ways to reduce your carbon footprint:

1: Power your home with renewable energy = 4.5 tons of CO2 emissions per year avoided

The average household uses 10,632 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. On average, that means your home’s electricity use creates about 4.5 tons of CO2 emissions per year. If you installed enough solar panels to supply all your energy needs, you’d essentially eliminate those emissions. But there’s an even easier (and much cheaper) way to go green—many homeowners and renters have the option to simply switch to an energy provider that uses clean, renewable energy. This simple action would take you about 5 minutes and dramatically reduce your carbon footprint.

2: Give up your car = 2.6 tons of CO2 emissions per year avoided

Could you go without your car, or go from two cars to one? By biking, walking, or taking public transportation instead of driving, you could significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

3: Avoid one transatlantic flight = 1.8 ton of CO2 emissions avoided 

Could you give up your vacation to save the planet? Avoiding one round-trip transatlantic flight wouldn’t save as much CO2 as heating and cooling your home with renewable energy—and electrifying your home will permanently reduce your carbon footprint. 

4: Give up meat = .9 tons of CO2 emissions avoided

Changing your diet is one of the biggest-impact changes any individual can make, but you have to go vegan, not just vegetarian, to really move the needle. Giving up meat has about 4 times the impact of recycling, but changing the way you heat and cool your home will still make a bigger difference.

5: Install a heat pump = .85 tons of CO2 a year emissions avoided

Since heating and cooling your home is such a big part of your carbon footprint, just electrifying your HVAC system can significantly reduce your emissions, even if you’re still using electricity generated from natural gas or another non-renewable source.

Electrifying your home, and getting that electricity from renewable sources, is one of the biggest-impact decisions you can make when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. And the good news is, unlike some of the other items on this list, it doesn’t require a big lifestyle change. In fact, since heat pumps are more efficient than other types of HVAC systems, you’ll likely find that making this change lowers your utility bills and makes your home more comfortable, too.

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