American homes account for 20% of of heat trapping gas emissions in the nation. (Source) Of course, different houses have different energy footprints. There’s a paradox about this, too.

An energy expert in South Carolina once told me that a major issue is certain smaller, older homes in the state that have inadequate insulation or other energy-saving features. Might be age of the residence, who knows. Heat got out in the winter and cool air got our in the summer. Just the nature of the beast.

These homes are not alone. Any residence can be leaky when it come to energy. Those homes have a larger energy and carbon footprint than necessary because of inefficiency.

Certainly, then, it is logical to consider that a larger house would have a larger carbon footprint. It may also be considered that a costlier house, though, would be expected to have a higher level of energy-efficiency features – insulation, appliances, lighting, for instance.

A new study (right) points out that there is a significant disparity on carbon footprints, though. The headline: Wealthy American homes have carbon footprints 25% higher than low-income residences“In some particularly affluent US suburbs, emissions are up to 15 times higher than nearby neighborhoods, according to the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

States with cooler climates had a bigger footprint due to heating needs. It is not all climate based. Utilities play a role in decarbonization as they move away from fossil fuels. Homeowners, however, have a huge role in reducing their carbon footprint. The researcher for the study said, “Income and greenhouse gases rise together.”

The study said this about American household energy: “Roughly 20% of US energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stem from heating, cooling, and powering households. If considered a country, these emissions would be considered the world’s sixth largest GHG emitter, comparable to Brazil and larger than Germany.”

The bigger picture is startling. Said a PBS News Hour story (left), “Transportation and housing contribute over 60% to the total domestic carbon footprint of U.S. households.” That is just the direct impact. How we consume is an added facet: “Supply chain emissions from services – such as health care, banking and lodging – and food contribute the next largest amounts.” (Source)

Another way to look at it: If you are able to buy blueberries from 30 miles away they likely have less of a carbon footprint than blueberries you buy that have to be brought in from another nation.

Investments in energy efficiency can change the footprint. Obviously, people with more disposable income would be able to afford these improvements more than less wealthy people. Most utility companies offer ways to audit energy use and make recommendations to make buildings more efficient.

Want to get a handle on your household carbon footprint? The EPA has a “Household Carbon Footprint Calculator.” From the website:

“Many of our daily activities cause emissions of greenhouse gases. For example, we produce greenhouse gas emissions from burning gasoline when we drive, burning oil or gas for home heating, or using electricity generated from coal, natural gas, and oil. Greenhouse gas emissions vary among individuals depending on a person’s location, habits, and personal choices. For example:

  • The quantity of greenhouse gas emissions from your home electricity use depends on the types of fuel your power plant uses to generate the electricity and the amount you use.
  • The quantity of greenhouse gases emitted from your furnace and boiler depends on the efficiency of these items, the size and insulation of your house, and the amount and type of fuel used.
  • The quantity of emissions from your car or truck depends on how much you drive, what your vehicle’s fuel efficiency is, and how you drive (e.g., the amount of time spent idling in traffic).
  • In addition, the more recycling you do will reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that result from processing of raw materials.

Try EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator to estimate your annual greenhouse gas emissions.