How to heat your home sustainably

Here’s how to keep warm and shrink your carbon footprint this winter.

As days get shorter and cooler, the thought of hibernating at home with a cup of hot chocolate becomes increasingly inviting. But the more time we spend at home, the more energy we consume — especially during the cold season. Think about all the binge-worthy winter TV shows, the longer-than-usual hot showers, the extra lights we switch on, and above all: heating. 

Globally, heat represents 50% of the energy we consume each year. Of that 50%, half goes to buildings for space and water heating, while the rest is used by industry. What does this mean for you and your carbon footprint? Well, that mostly depends on the heating system you have at home — and how efficiently you use it.

It’s estimated that fossil fuels still account for more than 80% of the world’s energy consumption. The remaining 20% comes from renewables. If your home and heat is powered by green energy, that’s great news for your carbon emissions! But switching to renewables isn’t the only thing you can do to help the climate. 

Heating home sustainably infographic

7 tips to heat your home sustainably

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Insulation is key. Here’s the trick: the more heat we trap indoors, the less extra heat we need to produce. Insulation is a great way to prevent heat loss. It doesn’t just trap heat from radiators, it also traps warmth from other sources — like us humans! The EPA estimates that homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs with quality insulation.

There are several kinds of insulation you can pick from: External insulation is usually very effective but can be pricey. There are also several low-budget options, like using internal wall insulation or mineral wool. But beware of the materials you pick — some need loads of energy to produce. Pick bio-based materials like cellulose fibers or mineral wool from mineral waste!

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Keep the warmth in. Beside insulation and double glazing, there are a few low-cost tricks to keep heat inside. Make sure your furniture isn’t blocking radiators, use more rugs, hang out with a hot water bottle, let the sun shine in during the day, and leave the oven door cracked after your cake is ready.

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Consider double-glazing your windows. New double-glazing offers heavy carbon savings when it comes to space heating. It helps retain warmth, improve your home’s energy efficiency, and even save money. Replacing all of your windows — or asking your landlord to do so — can be an expensive project. But remember, it will also lower your energy bill and pay for itself over time. In the meantime, if you’re looking for cheaper and faster alternatives, use heavy curtains or plug air leaks with weatherstripping.

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Green up your heating methods. 48% of US households are still powered by so-called natural gas (reminder: it’s a fossil fuel). At the same time, renewable energy has never been so cheap. Since 2014, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped by nearly 70%. The benefits for the climate? Huge. A residential solar panel system can meet the electricity needs of an entire home with about 80% lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels.

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Install a heat pump. Heat pumps are great for the climate. They can cut the average homeowner's carbon footprint by four tons per year, the equivalent of an international flight from New York to Seoul. Plus, they can help homeowners save up to $1,000 per year and cut their electricity bills by up to 50%.

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Get yourself a smart thermostat. With a smart thermostat, you can store multiple daily settings to adjust the temperature based on your schedule. You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling costs by simply turning your thermostat back 4°-5°C (7-10°F) for eight hours a day. Don't forget to check which thermostat you should get depending on your home’s heating system (some heat pumps don’t get along with some thermostats).

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Reduce your home's temperature. This one's easy! Just lower your thermostat and throw on a sweater and thick pair of socks. It’s estimated that the UK would save 1.18 million tons of CO2 if everyone decreased their home's temperature by 1°C. That’s not peanuts.

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Use a humidifier. A humidifier will make your home feel warmer. The humidity in your home should be between 30% and 50%. If it's too low, the dry air will feel cooler.

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Use less warm water. Don’t panic, we’re not asking you to take cold showers. There are many other ways to reduce the amount of hot water you use. It’s the simple things; like turning off the tap while scrubbing your hands or dishes, soaking dishes in mild water, or washing clothes at a lower temperature.

The big picture

Residential heating uses vast amounts of energy and can represent a significant chunk of your carbon footprint. The good news? Even if you’re not ready or able to invest in long-term solutions yet, there’s still plenty you can do to reduce your household’s energy consumption, shrink your emissions, and help the climate.

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