Project Guide

Measure Your Household Carbon Footprint

Difficulty: Beginner Print

We’re all trying to do our part when it comes to climate change, and the messages can be overwhelming. We know we need to reduce, reuse and recycle. But how does our daily consumption and conservation balance out? If you’re not sure where to start, try measuring your household carbon footprint. This measurement can give you a rough idea of the carbon emissions associated with your lifestyle. From there, you can look for actions to help reduce your impact.

When it comes to household carbon emissions, there are three primary categories we measure: Energy, Transportation and Waste. Each of these activities produce emissions through the energy they use and the combination of the three is your household carbon footprint. If you want to learn more about how energy, transportation and waste make up your household emissions, read on. If you want to jump right in and measure your carbon footprint, there are many calculators available online including this one from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


1. Energy

The energy associated with your household depends on where you live and the fuel your local power plant uses to generate electricity. Certain parts of the U.S. rely more heavily on coal-fired power production which has greater emissions than natural gas. Likewise, if you use fuel oil and propane to heat your home, your carbon footprint may be greater. For these reasons, most carbon footprint calculators factor in your zip code to measure your relative emissions.

If you are interested in lowering the carbon emissions associated with your home you can invest in renewable energy or lower your consumption. One way to reduce your consumption without freezing, sweating or sitting in the dark, is to look for ways to operate your home more efficiently. You can save energy by upgrading inefficient appliances and electronics to EnergyStar products. Equally important is cutting back on wasted energy by sealing and insulating your home. For more tips on improving your in-home energy efficiency, check out

2. Transportation

Your transportation emissions also vary, while the most important factors are the type of car, its fuel efficiency, how much you drive and how much time you spend idling in traffic. Equally important is the amount of traveling you do. Most carbon footprint calculators factor in the number of flights and/or miles you travel by plane each year as part of your emissions.

In addition to cutting back on travel and driving, one simple way to reduce your transportation emissions is to stop idling. Turn off your engine at red lights, railroad crossings and in drive-thru lines.

3. Waste

No one likes to think about the amount of waste that leaves their household and is destined for the landfill. But the amount of waste we produce plays a big part in our emissions. All carbon footprint calculators take into account whether you recycle basic household materials such as aluminum, steel, plastic, glass, newspaper and magazines.

If you haven’t started recycling, it’s easy to start. Check out our Recycling 101 project for best practices to make sure your recycling efforts count.