More than 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from energy use in homes. A major source of the problem is heating, and even though we're heading toward summer, heat is still an essential element in reducing your carbon load for the year. Some of us keep our homes warmer than we need to—if yours feels like an icebox in summer and a toaster in winter, you're probably in this group. In addition, most houses leak some hot air (and, in the summer, cool air) from every window, doorway, and air duct, which means that they're constantly wasting energy, and thereby upping CO 2 emissions.
This is not a necessary evil. Solar and wind power, which both create largely emissions-free electricity, can be expensive, tricky, or impractical. Likewise the newfangled geothermal energy. But you can stick with regular old oil, gas, or electricity and still cut down on the amount of energy you use to heat your home. Weatherizing is an excellent place to begin. Along with shedding carbon pounds, it can save you hundreds of dollars each year. It will also help save cool air from escaping during summer months. There are relatively painless ways to address overheating as well. Some suggestions for getting started:
• According to the National Resources Defense Council, the gaps around the windows and doors in most houses let out the same amount of air, all told, as a 3-by-3-foot hole. You can find the leaks and then use caulking and weatherstripping to seal them off. (Here's a how-to guide.)
• If your house has single-pane windows, you might as well leave them open. OK, not really, but they won't make your house snug. Adding storm panels makes your windows 50 percent more energy efficient. Installing double-pane windows is even better. It can cost thousands of dollars upfront, we admit. But double-pane windows save 10,000 pounds of CO2 per household from escaping into the atmosphere each year—that's five tons. And the federal government and many states and cities will give you a tax rebate to help defray the cost.
• Planting trees and shrubs around the foundation of your house helps insulate it from wind and heat loss in winter. You'll also be cooler and shadier in summer.
• Losing a couple of degrees on the thermostat in winter also cuts CO2 pounds. (Raising it a few in summer will help electricity-generated CO2.)
• Chimneys of traditional fireplaces are designed to remove the byproducts of a fire by creating a draft. That means they suck heat from your home, even when they're not in use. It's a good idea to keep the damper closed. Better than a fireplace (or you could install one inside it) is a wood-burning or pellet stove. They supplement your regular heat source, are more efficient, and use fuel that's much cleaner and cheaper.
• OK, so you're really stuck—you live in an apartment and can't choose where your heat comes from, or maybe even what temperature the thermostat is set to. You can still deal with your carbon sludge by purchasing carbon offsets for your home through programs like TerraPass. Your home won't get a direct delivery of green energy. But you'll be investing in it.
(Click here to launch this week's action quiz.)