As Size of US Homes Grow, Our Carbon Footprint is Growing, Too

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It’s a sobering piece of data. In the last century, the average American home has grown by 74 percent, according to a recently released report by Property Shark. Furthermore, while the size of American families has decreased, our homes have only gotten bigger. Personal living space has increased 211 percent in the last 100 years. And as homes grew, our consumption and pollution grew, too. As a result, it’s putting a tremendous strain on the environment.

And wouldn’t you know it, Texas is leading the pack.

More, Larger Homes Equals More Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The report analyzes HVAC consumption by source, correlates it with home size, and reveals that building bigger is having a devastating impact on our environmental footprint. Texas is responsible for 32 million tons of carbon emissions annually — the highest in the country. Now, logic tells you that the states with the largest populations contribute the most carbon dioxide emissions. Which, according to the report, is true except for California. The most populous state in the nation ranks sixth in CO2 pollution. California’s relatively mild weather and the state’s renewable energy policies contribute to its lower ranking. The average home size in California is also remarkably low: the second smallest in the country.

When analyzing emissions per home, however, Texas isn’t the baddest of the bad guys. Homes in the northeast run larger than average (over 2,000 square feet) and predominantly rely on fuel oil as an energy source during long, cold winters. We already know that burning fossil fuels makes up the number one source of environmental pollution. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire share the prize for greatest environmental polluters.


Building Smaller Now Will Have an Impact

So, what’s to be done? The report compares the United States to Germany, where average home size is considerably smaller (averaging 1,035 square feet, versus 2,800 square feet in the Dallas area) and posits that if we lived like Germans, we could reduce our carbon emissions by 45 percent and save $38 billion in energy spending. But we can’t shrink our houses, obviously. However, if we start building smaller now, the report says, and we can have a measurable impact inside of 10 years.

“We’ve also looked at what would happen if going forward new homes in the US did not exceed 1,200 square feet on average. Due to the small proportion new homes would have in the total housing stock, even if over the next 10 years homes would be built at this size, CO2 emissions would only decrease 2 percent.

While that doesn’t sound like much, it could still have positive impact in the long term, especially if coupled with investing more into energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.”

Unfortunately, American sentiment doesn’t exactly embrace the idea of personal sacrifice when it comes to consumption. What, then? Renewable energy, for a start. Several energy companies such as Green Mountain make wind energy readily available to electricity consumers in the Dallas area. Solar energy is also increasingly more affordable. So are hybrid and electric cars. It’s becoming simply a matter of applying our relative wealth to making different choices.

For those of us living in a larger home, consuming perhaps more than our fair share of resources, National Geographic offers a handy list of ways to reduce our carbon footprints

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Heather Hunter

In addition to a 15-year career in marketing and communications, Heather is an accomplished freelance writer and has contributed to The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column and “The United States of Dating” on National Public Radio. Her blog, This Fish Needs a Bicycle, was syndicated by NBC Universal (iVillage) for four years. As a ghostwriter, her work has appeared in publications such as WIRED and Stadia Magazine

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