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15 Things You Can Do at Home to Help Solve Climate Change

Although it can feel like an impossibly difficult problem, there are a lot of things you can do in and around your home to help solve the climate crisis. According to a report from the United Nations, households are associated with an estimated 65% of global greenhouse gas emissions. While these estimates can vary a lot depending on how you define different categories, it’s clear that our homes are one of the major driving factors behind climate change.

Below, you’ll find a range of different ways you can lower the emissions associated with your home, including ideas for homeowners and renters alike. These solutions range from fairly easy to quite difficult and expensive, and they’re all backed by rigorous research.

Switch Your Power to a Renewable and Carbon-Free Supplier

In order to maintain a livable climate and avoid climate catastrophe, we need to transition away from burning fossil fuels like oil and methane as rapidly as possible. The good news is we have the carbon-free technology to make this happen, but we need way more of it.

One of the easiest ways homeowners and renters can make the switch is to change your electricity to a renewable source, says Joel Rosenberg, an energy expert at the nonprofit Rewiring America. You can do this “either through your utility, which many utilities now offer, or through a community solar project or some other renewable energy supplier that is essentially transparent on your bill.”

You can start by calling your current utility or going on the company’s website to see if they offer a renewable option.

Reduce Your Food Waste

Eating leftovers might not seem like it would make a difference to climate change. However, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the annual emissions associated with wasted food from farm to fork in the United States are equivalent to the amount produced by 42 coal plants.

Nina Sevilla, who works on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Save the Food program, says the largest amount of food waste comes from our homes. However, the causes of food waste can vary a lot from family to family.

“There’s not one silver bullet to reducing food waste in the house,” she says. “My suggestion would be to reflect on your household’s situation and then try to address those drivers.” Some top strategies for reducing waste include meal planning, avoiding shopping for perishable items in bulk, and making the most of your freezer when you do end up with a lot of something.

Hosting and celebrations can be another source of food waste. “In our country, I think we have this abundance mindset,” says Sevilla. “Especially when hosting, this tends to lead us to feel we need to provide a lot of things and not run out of something.” To help tackle the problem, the NRDC has created The Guest-Imatora cleverly named calculator to help you figure out portion sizes and shopping lists based on your menu and your number of guests.

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Switch to Induction Cooking

As more and more people are concerned about cooking with methane (also known as “natural gas”) for climate and health reasons, they are making the switch to induction stoves.

If you’re a renter who doesn’t get to pick the appliances, Rosenberg suggests getting an induction burner or a convection toaster oven to help you decrease the use of a gas-powered stove or oven. These small appliances run efficiently on electricity and are relatively inexpensive.

Compost

Food scraps can generate methane if they’re sent to landfill, but when composted properly offer a range of environmental benefits. Composting can help cut emissions associated with waste removal and build up healthier soil. “We should be recycling the nutrients back into the soil, and composting is the way to do that,” says Sevilla.

There are tons of resources online to help you learn to compost, but if you’re not sure how to get started, look for a Master Composter class. Many municipalities and state extension services offer these classes. Or if you don’t want to compost yourself, look for a local food scraps drop-off, like at a community garden, farmers market, or recycling center.

Insulate

No matter where your electricity comes from, using less of it can benefit the climate by leading to lower emissions if you’re connected to the electrical grid. That’s why many of the things you can do to address the climate crisis are related to improving your home’s energy efficiency.

Start by making sure your home is well insulated, which will save electricity on both heating and cooling. Fill any obvious cracks, add insulation where possible, add draft guards to doors with gaps, and consider thermal curtains for windows.

New Tax Credits Can Help You Go Green

The Inflation Reduction Act that passed into law in 2022 includes a number of different tax credits and incentives that can help pay for weatherization, efficiency upgrades, and even rooftop solar. Learn more at WhiteHouse.gov/CleanEnergy.

Wash with Cold Water

When washing clothes, 90% of the washing machine’s energy use goes towards heating water. That’s a big energy saving for switching to a cold wash cycle. Today’s modern detergents are nearly universally designed to work effectively in cold water, but you can always check the label just to be sure.

Washing the dishes with cold or cooler water when possible will cut down on electricity usage too, as will skipping the “heated dry” setting on the dishwasher.

Switch to LEDs

According to Project Drawdowna nonprofit that has created a library of solutions to climate change, a global shift to LED lighting could save 14.45 to 16.69 gigatons of carbon pollution in the next three decades.

That’s a pretty big benefit for something that starts as simply as switching out a light bulb. LED lights no longer need to cost more upfront than incandescent bulbs, and they can save you money because they’re as much as 90% more efficient at producing the same amount of light.

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Air Dry Your Laundry

Skipping the clothes dryer benefits the climate on more than one level. First, line drying your clothing means that you’re saving the energy the machine would have used, especially if you have a dryer that runs on methane.

A second benefit is that air drying is gentler on our garments, helping them last longer. In the long run, that means we can buy fewer garments lifetime—another win for the environment.

Eat Less Meat and Dairy

Diet can be a big part of our carbon footprint, and cows are one of the biggest contributors to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. While going vegan would slash your diet’s carbon footprint the most, a major study found that if Americans cut their meat consumption in half, it could reduce all food-related air pollution by 35%, an outsized benefit.

Replacing dairy with plant-based products also benefits climate change, because plant-based milks and other products are less resource intensive and can be produced using less land.

Rethink Disposable Packaging and Products

Single-use plastic is not only a major source of water pollution and a huge source of what’s sent to landfill but it’s also accompanied by a big carbon footprint. The plastics industry is really an off-shoot of the fossil fuel industry because most plastic is made from oil and gas by-products. So skipping disposable plastic whenever possible is a big environmental win-win.

There are many easy swaps to help you use less plastic. For example, instead of using throwaway utensils and cups, consider packing your own reusable items when traveling or eating out. When food shopping, look for products sold in bulk instead of single-wrapped servings.

Clean or Replace Heating and Cooling Air Filters

According to Energy Star, a dirty filter makes your air conditioner and other HVAC equipment work harder and use more energy. To get the most efficient operation, clean your filter every month and replace it on a regular schedule.

Join a Buy Nothing Group

Just about everything we buy is associated with some amount of carbon emissions—from the materials used to make it to the energy needed to transport it. So shopping second-hand is great for the environment: it cuts down on demand for new materials, plus all the resources used to make them. But what about all the things in our homes that are still useful but perhaps have little resale value?

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That’s the beauty of Buy Nothing Groups; they let you gift and get what you need without buying new items, just as the name suggests. You can find these community groups on Facebook or Reddit, and sometimes even on other kinds of community chats.

Plan for Climate Smart Upgrades

Transitioning your home off fossil fuels by replacing appliances that burn methane or heating oil is one of the biggest impact things homeowners can do for the climate. This is the idea driving the “electrify everything” movement: replacing furnaces, dryers, water heaters, and stoves that require dirty energy with newer, better machines that can run on electricity which will increasingly come from a carbon-free electrical grid.

But these types of upgrades can be expensive (even if they can save you money on your utilities in the long run), and involve some degree of hassle if you need to renovate to accommodate them. However, Rosenberg says that starting to plan your transition now is a small step you can take right away, before your existing appliances give out or your home needs an upgrade.

“Part of that is identifying when some of your appliances were purchased, their life expectancy, and when they might fail,” he says. Then you can start looking into options now, and possibly identify any technicians you might need to hire. It might inspire you to start saving for an upgrade and give you an idea of how to budget.

Rosenberg has even written an incredibly helpful guide called “Electrify Everything in Your Home,” for people who are looking into making these kinds of upgrades.

Consider If Solar Is Right for You

Another change that has both a big impact and involves a big commitment is installing rooftop solar. You can start by using a solar mapping tool like Google’s Project Sunroof to see if your home gets enough sun to make installing panels worthwhile. If your prospects look bright, you have a number of different finance options to choose from, ranging anywhere from Power Purchase Agreements to solar loans to buying the panels outright.

Stay Politically Engaged

All the experts interviewed for this article mentioned the need for system change, in addition to individual action. So, it’s worth mentioning that you can play a role in changing the system without leaving home. That includes making sure we’re all registered to vote, and by writing letters or making phone calls to our elected officials to ask them to support legislation that reduces emissions.

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