Household Carbon Calculator or Ecological Footprint Calculator? Here’s How to Pick

By Natalia Mello | Updated on September 16, 2021

Every single household in the world generates an ecological cost to the planet. Starting at the construction phase, your house consumes natural resources and generates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, all culminating into your household’s carbon and ecological footprints.

But, if you’re interested in finding effective ways to reduce the impact your home has on the environment, this article is for you!

The first step is figuring out your household’s carbon and ecological footprints.

A household carbon footprint measures the carbon dioxide emissions being generated in tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e). The ecological footprint catalogs how much of the planet’s renewable and non-renewable resources your household uses, as well as a number of other costs to the environment.

  • But where do these emissions come from?
  • What are these resources your household consumes?
  • And how does your home’s footprint compare to others?

Keep reading…

A house nestled into a forested hill near one of 8 Billion Trees' Kenya reforestation sites.

Calculating Your Household Carbon Footprint

Your household emissions are associated with both your day-to-day energy needs, and what is known as embodied carbon dioxide. The latter means the emissions from the construction (including materials and their transportation), refurbishment, and the demolition of the house.

Regarding daily energy use, each American household emits 7.5 tons of CO2e, on average, annually.1 In total, houses in the United States release 5.43 gigatons of CO2e per year, corresponding to 20 percent of all national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.2

What Causes Household Emissions?

How much CO2e a household emits every year varies according to several aspects.
These include:

  • Heating and cooling
    The effects of heating and cooling are dependent on the location of the house and varying weather conditions. Together, heating and cooling homes release 441 million tons of CO2e every year.3 In 2020, home heating and cooling accounted for roughly 45 percent of energy use in American homes.4
  • Lighting
    A standard light bulb that works for four hours each day emits 138 pounds of CO2e yearly. An efficient light bulb that is on for the same time, on the other hand, emits 24 pounds of CO2e each year.5
  • Appliances
    The more energy-efficient devices are in a household, the smaller its carbon footprint. On average, standard fridges – one of the appliances with the biggest carbon footprint in a household – emit roughly 716 pounds of CO2e per year.4 A computer produces 496 pounds of CO2e annually.6
  • Laundry
    90 percent of the electricity that washing machines consume is destined to heating the water.6 Because of that, laundry alone produces more than 28 million tons of CO2e every year in the United States.4
  • Food consumption habits
    Food is responsible for 10 to 30 percent of household emissions. The more animal-based products you and your family consume, the bigger your household carbon footprint. Ruminants (sheep, goats, and cattle) in the United States sent more than 196 million tons of CO2e to the atmosphere in 2018.4 Not surprisingly, beside red meat, dairy also has a large footprint.
  • Showering
    There are a lot of ways a household can waste water, but one of the easiest is by taking long showers. Daily showers lasting just 8 minutes release 1366 pounds of CO2e per year.6
  • Vehicles
    How you move about influences your household’s contribution to climate change. That varies according to how many vehicles you have, which type of vehicle you use, how much maintenance you give to your car, how many miles you drive, the average gas mileage, and the fuel you use. On average, a standard car produces 5 tons of CO2e each year.7 At present, vehicles contribute roughly 25 percent of all energy-related CO2e emissions.8
  • Waste generation
    Citizens in the United States generate the highest amount of waste per capita on the planet.9 On average, waste generation in a household hosting two people produces roughly 1382 pounds CO2e per year.10
  • Pets
    Whether you have pets or not influences your household carbon footprint to an extent you might not have imagined. Annually, feeding dogs and cats generates the same amount of CO2e 13.6 million cars released in the same period: 64 million tons.11
  • Family size
    Smaller families usually have smaller carbon footprints. If you have one fewer child than the American average, you can save 58 tons of CO2e each year.12
  • Size of the house
    Larger homes usually have bigger carbon footprints. That can be different – although rarely – depending on the materials used and how the house was designed.

An 8 Billion Trees graphic showing where the majority of carbon dioxide emissions come from for a person, with transportation having the most at 28%, and food having the least, at 14%.

Building a Sustainable House Can Have a Big Impact

As mentioned above, a household carbon footprint should not forget about embodied carbon dioxide (the emissions that come from building, refurbishing, and demolishing your house). In fact, 11 percent of all global CO2e emissions come from building materials and the construction phase itself.13

Several sustainable architecture strategies have been put forward – and are continuously improved – to help reduce carbon emissions linked with building processes, and create carbon neutral green buildings.

Materials with lower carbon footprints – such as bamboo and green cement, among others – are a fundamental part of such strategies, as well as preventing waste generation on site. Other approaches include integrating living plants into the structure of the building – especially on the roof – and optimizing the transportation routes for delivering material

The majority of these sustainable building approaches are, however, expensive and only applicable to new structures.

To overcome these barriers and reduce (or even erase) the carbon footprint of buildings, strategies such as the Climate Plus Green Building Program can be used. Such programs offset carbon emissions via tree planting and habitat restoration, enabling anyone – like you – to significantly cut down not only the household carbon footprint, but its ecological footprint as well… Scroll down for more information on the latter.

Calculating Your Household Ecological Footprint

Building, using, refurbishing, and eventually demolishing your household impacts the planet in more ways than emitting gases that trap heat in the planet.

All of these processes are associated with the consumption of natural resources and waste generation, aside from contributing to climate change. To account for the extent to which your household contributes to depleting natural reserves, you must calculate its ecological footprint.

The Ecological Footprint determines how much productive land and sea – or bioproductive area – is necessary to support our consumption habits and absorb all of the GHG emissions and waste we generate. The household ecological footprint is the sum of the areas (in hectares) of:14

  • croplands necessary to grow the produce the household utilizes;
  • pasturelands needed to support the production of (land) animal-based products consumed in the household;
  • fishing grounds required to deliver the seafood the household ingests;
  • and required to accommodate the household;
  • forest needed to produce paper and wood;
  • forest required to absorb the GHG emissions the household generates.

The ecological footprint of a household hence accounts for more than just its GHG emissions.

It encompasses the extent to which your household depletes the planet’s resources, which the carbon footprint does not do. Calculating and taking action towards reducing this footprint is crucial, as it takes the Earth 18 months to absorb and regenerate everything the world consumes over one year.15 That is because global demands for natural resources continue to increase, while their supply diminishes.

At present, the extent to which the world extracts natural resources is more than three times higher than what was recorded in 1970.16 Extracting and processing natural resources contribute more than 90 percent of biodiversity loss on the planet.8

A green cement rabbit sitting the the foot of a tree in the forest of Chattahoochee Bend State Park in Georgia, with an 8 Billion Trees watermark.

Do Homes in the United States Have a Higher Ecological Footprint?

Unfortunately, the normalized energy use and waste of natural resources in the United States has caused these citizens to almost automatically have a higher ecological carbon footprint.

In the United States, a citizen consumes 2,501 calories on average each day, and sends 22 percent of their food to the landfill. Food waste has increased by 50 percent since 1970.

Home size in the country also increased by 41 percent since 1970, and the amount of developed land rose 60 percent from 1982 to 2015. In 2006, when a peak was recorded, each person consumed 14 tons of raw material in the country. The United States moreover uses 17 percent of the energy available on the planet.4 All of this means the ecological footprint of the average North American household is deemed to be hue in comparison to other countries!

A recent study found that, in Italy, the ecological footprint of a detached house and of a four-story building is 0.19 hectares and 0.29 hectares, respectively.17 In contrast, the average U.S. citizen’s household ecological footprint is 5.4 hectares.18

Wondering how your household ecological footprint compares? Calculate it below:

Insert Household Ecological Footprint Calculator

Knowing Your Household Carbon and Ecological Footprints Allows You to Build a Greener Home and a Healthier Planet

If you felt guilty after calculating your household footprints, do not let this feeling paralyze you!

Knowledge empowers you, and agency – your capacity to act – is much stronger than guilt. After quantifying how much your household contributes to climate change and depleting Earth’s reserves, you can take action to build a more sustainable routine and a greener home. Although that might sound like a complicated goal, steps as simple as washing clothes in cold water will lead you to the right path.

Changes in diet (such as avoiding animal-based products whenever possible), shopping local, giving maintenance to your car, taking shorter showers, recycling, and taking advantage of natural ventilation and lighting are also simple steps to build a greener routine.

Reducing waste generation, sealing your home and keeping the thermostat low, walking or biking more often, using energy-efficient appliances, and supporting carbon offset programs are also important ways for you and your family to live more sustainably.

With carbon offsets and an ecological footprint calculator, you have the power to not only mitigate those pesky CO2 emissions that your household can’t help but produce, but you’ll also be helping to restore ecosystems and important habitats for endangered wildlife.

Read More About Your Carbon Footprint:


References

1(N.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.ccfpd.org/Portals/0/Assets/PDF/Facts_Chart.pdf

2Taiebat The Conversation, M. (2019, September 21). 5 charts show how your household drives up global greenhouse gas emissions. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/5-charts-show-how-your-household-drives-up-global-greenhouse-gas-emissions

3Gagnon, S. (2017, October 4). Home Energy Use | Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.c2es.org/content/home-energy-use/

4Carbon Footprint Factsheet | Center for Sustainable Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet

5Household Energy Consumption. (n.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.carbonfootprint.com/energyconsumption.html

6Champaign County Forest Preserve District (N.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.ccfpd.org/Portals/0/Assets/PDF/Facts_Chart.pdf

7Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle | US EPA. (2016, January 12). Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle

8United Nations (2021, August 13). Facts and Figures | United Nations. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.un.org/en/actnow/facts-and-figures

9World Bank. (n.d.) What a Waste 2.0. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://datatopics.worldbank.org/what-a-waste/.

10Environmental Protection Agency. (2015, April 2). Household Carbon Footprint Calculator. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator

11Mihala, I. (n.d.). What’s my pet’s carbon footprint? Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://mossy.earth/guides/lifestyle/pet-carbon-footprint

12Chandler, C. (2019, March 29). How family size shapes your carbon footprint » Yale Climate Connections. Retrieved August 13, 2021, from http://yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/03/how-family-size-shapes-your-carbon-footprint/

13World Green Building Council . (n.d.). Embodied carbon call to action report . Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.worldgbc.org/embodied-carbon

14Caird, S., & Roy, R. (2006). Household Ecological Footprints — Demographics and Sustainability. Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 08(04), 407–429. https://doi.org/10.1142/S1464333206002591

15Global Footprint Network. (2021, July 7). Home . Retrieved August 13, 2021, from https://www.footprintnetwork.org

16UNEP. (2019, April 03). We’re gobbling up the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate. Retrieved 08 13, 2021, from www.unep.org: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/were-gobbling-earths-resources-unsustainable-rate

17Bastianoni, S., Galli, A., Niccolucci, V., & Pulselli, R. M. (2006). The ecological footprint of building construction. The Sustainable City IV: Urban Regeneration and Sustainability, 1, 345–356. https://doi.org/10.2495/SC060331

18WBCSD Sustainable Lifestyles. (2015). Sustainable Lifestyles: A brief look at lifestyle impacts in the USA. Presented at the US Working Group Meeting, Purdue University: Global Footprint Network. Retrieved from https://www.footprintnetwork.org/content/documents/WBCSD_SLWGUS15.pdf