The next step toward reducing your carbon footprint is to conserve energy on all fronts. An easy place to start is with home lighting. Lighting consumes an average 2,000 kilowatt hours (kwh) per year and represents almost 30 percent of a household’s annual electrical usage (the percentage is less when electricity is used to heat water). Energy saving bulbs should be purchased and substituted at every opportunity. Check your utility bill for coupons to save on the comparatively higher purchase price. Your up-front costs will be rewarded many times over the life of the bulbs. Consider motion detection switches for appropriate areas, such as hallways and family rooms and outdoor lighting.
Another easy place to save electrical energy is to reduce the number of appliances that consume electricity while on standby. Electrical strips can be employed on televisions, entertainment centers, computers, and battery-charged, hand-held appliances and tools. Power down computers and shut off the electrical supply until the next session. National statistics indicate that electronics consume on-average about 7 percent of a household’s electrical usage.
Home heating is the biggest utility expense for most Montanans and correspondingly is an identifiable contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is used by about 60 percent of Montana households and residential consumption averages about 115 decatherms (dkt) per year for homes that use it for space heat and hot water. Most of the remainder use propane. Approximately 7 percent of residences use wood for space heating.
About 78 percent of residential natural gas is devoted to space heating. Two easy steps can be taken to reduce space heating emissions. The first is to seal doors and windows against obvious air leaks that rob your home of heat. The second is to install setback thermostats for space heated areas. Many homeowners routinely turn down thermostats at night and while away for work – but many don’t. A setback thermostat can be programmed to adjust home heating for the times it’s needed and the times it’s not.
These efforts are the “low-hanging fruit” to energy savings in the home. But don’t stop with these measures. Order a home energy audit through your utility, where available, and act on the recommended measures. While waiting for the audit, order a copy of the Montana Energy Savers Guidebook, or view it online (PDF). Energy saving priorities are clearly presented with cost-effective steps to reduce emissions and save on utility bills. Many steps are low-cost, highly effective, and earn early returns. Others require financial planning and a reinvestment in your home. Depending on the age and profile of your dwelling, its heating plant and appliances, energy efficiency measures can run up to $25 per square foot to achieve optimal savings. But current state energy conservation tax credits make these conservation and efficiency investments even more attractive.
Don’t forget the environmental benefits of recycling. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) offers advice and strategies specific to our region.
As you may have noticed using certain carbon footprint calculators, questions about food purchases may be entered into the calculations. How do food purchases contribute to the carbon footprint? The distance that food travels from its source to the consumer’s table is known as “the food mile.” The greater the distance, the higher the transportation energy expended. The type of transport is also a consideration. Ocean freighters can be quite efficient while air freight almost always carries a high carbon cost. Consequently, the carbon emissions associated with certain foods can be quite high. Beef consumption is measured on some calculators due to carbon emissions associated with grain finishing and other factors. For food purchasing information, visit the Grow Montana site. For more information about food miles, visit the National Sustainable Agricultural Service and enter the term "food miles" in the browser.