Solutions Series: Creating Climate-Friendly Homes

Soluciones: Creando hogares respetuosos al clima

Nov 17, 2021

In our latest solutions brief, Climate Central looks at how energy efficiency and electrification upgrades in our homes can save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

KEY CONCEPTS

  • Residential and commercial buildings account for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
  • As we switch our energy supply to renewable sources, electrifying our homes, businesses, and work spaces is critical for reaching net zero emissions and limiting climate warming. 
  • Adopting efficiency and electrification measures can reduce carbon emissions of single family homes by 24%. These upgrades are also profitable investments for homeowners.  
  • For more information, check out our newest Solutions Series brief: Creating Climate-Friendly Homes. The brief provides data, resources, and story suggestions to help tell compelling stories about energy efficiency and electrification in local communities.

SOLUTIONS SERIES BRIEF: CREATING CLIMATE-FRIENDLY HOMES

Climate Central’s latest Solution Series brief focuses on climate-friendly homes. Residential and commercial buildings account for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., due to burning gas, propane, or oil in buildings and using electricity generated from fossil fuels. As energy supplies switch to renewable sources, electrifying our homes, businesses, and work spaces is critical for reaching net zero emissions and limiting climate warming. 

  • Electrification of buildings means using electricity (instead of burning fossil fuels) for things like cooking, clothes drying, and heating and cooling. Roughly one in four U.S. homes is already all electric
  • Increasing energy efficiency can help to reduce the total amount of electricity needed to meet demand from home appliances and vehicles that pull their energy from the grid, while also lowering homeowners’ energy bills.

What contributes to the carbon footprint of our homes?
Heating and cooling are the largest source of CO2 emissions in our homes (38%), followed by cooking meals, lighting our homes, running our electronic devices, and using other household appliances (24%) and heating water (15%). 

A study of residential energy use showed that local climate conditions and the age of homes contribute to a household’s energy intensity—how much energy it uses. But the type of fuel that powers a state’s energy infrastructure strongly influences a household’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or GHG intensity. For example, Vermont has high energy intensity (cold climate, older homes) but low GHG intensity because most of its electricity supply comes from renewable sources. 

How do we make our homes more climate-friendly?
According to research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 22% of electricity used by single-family homes could be saved—about 6% of all energy used nationwide—through efficiency and electrification measures. According to the research:

  • Efficiency measures that are also cost-effective, profitable investments for the homeowner would reduce carbon emissions of single-family homes by 24% (291 million metric tons CO2e per year) annually, or about 4% of emissions coming from U.S. energy consumption.
  • Some states could see as much as 30% savings in homes’ electricity use, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware
  • Overall, replacing both an inefficient electric furnace and air conditioner with a single high-efficiency heat pump provided the most energy savings. Other upgrades that quickly paid for themselves include smart thermostats, ENERGY STAR rated appliances, changing out incandescent bulbs for LED lighting, and weatherization.  

Electrification can provide cost savings on energy bills
A study from RMI found that electrification of heating and air conditioning can reduce homeowners’ costs over an appliance’s lifetime compared to fossil fuel-based models. With fuel prices rising dramatically this winter, more homeowners may look to shift. In October, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that American households will spend more on energy this winter, particularly for homes heated with propane or heating oil. 

POTENTIAL LOCAL STORY ANGLES

What are the energy efficiency and electrification incentives and policies in my state? 
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) manages a database of both state and city energy efficiency policies and programs, and has developed state and city scorecards and factsheets identifying where there’s been progress and where there’s more potential. Also check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency which identifies renewable energy initiatives.

What are the potential benefits of energy efficiency and electrification for my state? 
NREL’s state factsheets summarize potential residential energy and cost savings, and identify the most cost-effective upgrades for homeowners in each state. Rewiring America’s interactive report looks at carbon reduction, job creation, household savings, and health benefits that occur from electrification. ENERGY STAR’s interactive map provides a state-level breakdown of newly built ENERGY STAR certified homes and their energy savings and reduction of CO2 emissions.

Where are energy efficient or zero energy buildings and projects near me?
The U.S. Department of Energy has a database of nearly 300 zero energy homes around the country in all types of climate zones that are designed to have most or all of their energy needs met with renewable energy. Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) is a collaboration that works at state and local levels to ensure renters have affordable and healthier places to live through energy and water efficiency measures. Zero energy multifamily projects are being developed around the country, including in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and even a senior living community in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

LOCAL EXPERTS 

The SciLine service, 500 Women Scientists or the press offices of local universities may be able to connect you with local scientists who have expertise on energy efficiency and electrification. The American Association of State Climatologists is a professional scientific organization composed of all 50 state climatologists

NATIONAL EXPERTS

METHODOLOGY 

Maps and graphics data from Wilson, et al, Energy Efficiency Potential in the U.S. Single-Family Housing Stock, 2017.

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