Just the headlines from the past few weeks are enough to make a homeowner sweat:
In Phoenix, the mercury has soared above 110 degrees every single day for three straight weeks. In Florida, Farmers Insurance has discontinued new policies, making it the latest in a string of insurance companies pulling out of the state in the past year. And in Arizona, where the Colorado River is shrinking dramatically, the rumble of new construction in one of America’s fastest-growing areas has gone silent after the governor put the brakes on new home-building, citing a lack of water.
July 2023 has been the hottest month ever recorded on earth, and the structures where we live and work have played a significant role in turning up the heat. The warming climate is caused by global carbon emissions, which build up in our atmosphere and push temperatures higher. And nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions come from the real estate sector.
If you’re concerned about climate change, many of the biggest changes you can make begin at home. Some are as simple as just flipping a switch.
“A lot of times people think of their homes and think they need to go get solar panels or replace their windows, which are big fixes and pretty expensive. But some changes are far less expensive, and far more impactful,” said Ashlee Piper, whose book “Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet” lays out practical solutions ordinary people can embrace to live more sustainably.
Among Ms. Piper’s recommendations for simple shifts you can make to help stem climate change:
Keep an Eye on the Thermostat
The global reliance on heating and cooling systems requires immense energy usage, resulting in immense carbon emissions. In cold weather, turn the thermostat down just a degree or two. And same goes for raising the air-conditioner temperature in the summer. The hours you’re at work or away from the house offer a major opportunity for conservation: Rather than blasting that air-conditioner all day in order to return to a cool home in the evening, environmentalists recommend you raise the temperature around 10 degrees for at least 8 hours a day. The same rule applies in the winter: When you go out, turn that heater way down. There are financial savings, too: If you turn the heat down by 10 to 15 degrees every day for eight hours, you can reduce your annual heating bill up to 15 percent, according to the Department of Energy.
Start Backyard Composting
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly one quarter of our homes’ solid waste comes from food scraps, and when that food waste ends up in landfills, it breaks down and re-enters the atmosphere as methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Composting, which instead allows food scraps to break down into a nutrient-rich material that feeds soil, breaks this cycle. Many citiesnow have public composting bins available to drop off their food scraps. In cities without composting programs, you can check with local farms, utilize a private composting pickup service or purchase a small compost bin.
New York State has banned gas stoves in new buildings. But homeowners in older buildings don’t have to be left behind — they can swap their older gas models for induction stoves, which use electromagnets to heat cookware without emitting natural gas, which is a fossil fuel.
Install a Heat Pump
Furnaces guzzle natural gas. A heat pump, which runs on electricity and can be operated by wind and solar energy, could cut your home’s carbon dioxide emissions by around 40 percent, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. And there’s a bonus: Heat pumps rely on heat exchangers, the same mechanisms that run refrigerators and freezers, and they can work in reverse. So a heat pump can cool your home as efficiently in July as it warms it in January.
Think Sustainable Landscaping
One of the most powerful tools for fighting climate change might be hiding in your yard. Going green has nothing to do with grass — in fact, you’ll likely want to forego a traditional grass lawn in favor of native plants, hardscapes like gravel and stone that prevent water runoff and soil erosion, and responsible watering systems like drip irrigation and rainwater collection.
Plan a Move Carefully
Climate is also a factor in where people are choosing to move. Many are now looking to go further.
If you’re in an area with high risk of wildfire, flood or drought, “Moving five or 10 miles doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Parag Khanna, chief executive of Climate Alpha, a platform offering climate-change real estate strategies.
As summers get hotter and winters get more extreme, he expects more Americans to start seeking out new locations with climate stability in mind.
“The whole idea of picking that one spot with that white picket fence and spending the next 60 years of your life there — I’m not sure that’s the best strategy based on today’s economy, let alone today’s climate,” he said.