Going Green One Square Foot at a Time

There are many things that one considers when purchasing a new home: proximity to work or schools, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, or perhaps the finishes in the kitchen and bathroom. But how often do folks use a new home purchase as an opportunity to transition into a green lifestyle.

If looking through green-colored glasses, the process of searching for a home takes on a totally different appearance. Yes, location still matters, but it’s not just about the convenience of being within walking distance of great restaurants and shopping centers, but it’s also about the fact that you will need to drive less, and less driving = less carbon emissions from driving. Those skylights in the living room really make for a unique feature, but they also allow you to turn the lights on less, and less lights = less electricity = less carbon emissions. The large canopy trees in the front yard provide just the curb appeal you have been looking for, but they also keep the house cool in the summer, which allows you to crank the AC just a little less again cutting down the amount of energy consumption.

So the list of considerations to be made when making a green purchase is two items short of infinite, and gives us plenty of opportunity for future blog posts, so let’s just focus on one for the time being: square footage.

At least in the United States, the majority of us would prefer a larger residence versus a smaller residence. This is evidenced by the fact that the median home size was about 983 square feet in the 1950s and about 2,277 in 2007, the height of the housing bubble(information provided by US Census Bureau). That’s an increase of about 27 square feet a year, a good-sized closet! To be fair, the median house size has dropped since 2007, but that may have less to do with our desire to live in smaller houses than it has to do with our inability to afford larger houses.

Maybe we need larger houses to house our larger families, less likely given the population per household has steadily decreased for the last 70 years(information provided by US Census Bureau), or maybe larger houses continue to be a prevailing status symbol in the United States. Whatever the reason, it remains that your choice of house size when purchasing a new home can have a material impact on the environment.

How does square footage impact the environment?

Well, a larger house means more space to heat and cool which means greater consumption of gas and electricity. It also means more materials required to build the house. These materials impact your carbon footprint both when they’re manufactured and when they are transported to the building site. If we take it a step further, a larger house means a greater need to fill that additional space in your house with more stuff, which also had to be manufactured and delivered somewhere.

What exactly is the impact on the environment due to increased square footage?

This is a hard number to estimate, but there is a great resource in the Cool Climate Network, which is a non-profit applied research consortium, that includes the folks at UC Berkeley (pretty smart guys). They have a useful carbon footprint calculator that helps users understand the impact of their daily decisions on the state of our environment. If you play around with the calculator, you will find that for every 100 square foot increase in household size contributes to an additional 1/10 of a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere. What does that mean exactly? That’s the equivalent of driving a gasoline-powered car about 218 miles! Whether this sounds like a lot or a little, the real power comes when you add our individual actions together. 76 people choosing homes that are 100 square feet smaller is the equivalent of eliminating a car from the road for an entire year…

The moral of the story, your choice of home and features has an impact on the environment. Why not downsize, just a little bit?

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