How to heat your house—not the outside.
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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. (Increasing your home's efficiency will help decrease CO 2 emissions generated by your air-conditioner, too, but since it runs on electricity, we'll address that in an upcoming segement.)
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.)
Meaghan O'Neill is a freelance writer and founding editor of treehugger.com, an eco-Web site and Slate's partner on the Green Challenge.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.