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Our Carbon Footprint: A Trajectory of Residential Greenhouse Gas Production

Cristina Miguelez

Published on August 19, 2020


Our Carbon Footprint: A Trajectory of Residential Greenhouse Gas Production

How do US homes impact the environment? This graphic shows residential greenhouse gas production today and how it may change over the coming decades.

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As we work to reduce our carbon footprint, one big question always comes up: just how much greenhouse gas do our homes produce? We wanted to look at this question in detail, and find out what activities and appliances are responsible for most of our greenhouse gas emissions and how our carbon footprint is likely to change over the next thirty years.

How Much Greenhouse Gas Do US Homes Emit?

The image below illustrates expected trends. We looked at the energy consumption per purpose or area of the home, as provided by a U.S Energy Information Administration report. Then, we converted quads to kWh using this tool, and finally used an EPA calculator to determine just how many metric tons of greenhouse gas all of that electricity use would be responsible for.

In our visualization we used two colors: orange to represent the actual greenhouse gas emissions from residential homes in 2019 and pink to represent projected emissions in 2050. The size of the bubbles is proportional to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions for each year, in metric tons. The larger the bubble, the more greenhouse gas that area produces.

The EIA projects that total delivered energy consumption will grow slowly over the reference period. As you can see in the graphic, CO2 emissions from heating are expected to see a significant decrease, while cooling needs increase. This is primarily a result of projected population shifts as more people move into warmer, southern or coastal areas. Projections from the EIA suggest that more than 1.2 million additional housing units would be built in the West South Central And South Atlantic Census Divisions by 2050, a population explosion that has the potential to significantly change energy use dynamics. At the same time, weather trends suggest the number of days that require heating will decrease in colder areas over the next thirty years.

Lighting electricity consumption has been on the decline and is expected to continue along that trajectory, with greenhouse gas emissions decreasing as consumers switch out power hogs for energy-effective lighting devices. But use of other electronics, such as TVs and TV equipment, is likely to increase, causing a slightly increased carbon footprint in that area.

Environmentally-Friendly Solutions for Residential Buildings

Moving forward, we see that environmentally-friendly space cooling should be one of our top priorities in the next decade, and energy efficient solutions in this area have the potential to bring residential energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions steeply down. Since energy efficient cooling systems are more economical in the long run, any technological advances in this area are likely to be adopted somewhat rapidly by consumers looking to keep their electricity bills down. One good energy-saving option is heat pumps, which have been shown to be 50% as effective as electrical cooling systems.

As our data here is modeled on traditional electricity sources, widespread adoption of home solar energy sources remains another alternative that could bring residential greenhouse gas production significantly down. Solar installations are becoming cheaper by the year, and the EIA reports that in 2019 U.S. renewable energy production exceeded coal production for the first time in 150 years.

Whatever the future may bring, a good understanding of residential greenhouse gas and where the trends are taking us should help us to make informed decisions regarding both energy usage and home design.