Sustainability | Land | Environment | Ecotrope

Report: Smaller homes, smaller carbon footprints

Ecotrope | Oct. 26, 2010 6:34 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 25, 2013 2:12 p.m.

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Headlines sure have a way of dumbing down the news, don’t they?

Take, for example, this report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which concludes that smaller homes have smaller environmental footprints.

Well, duh. Anybody could’ve guessed that!

But the good stuff is in the guts of the report. It delves into the relative environmental impacts of extracting, producing and transporting building materials, the impacts of constructing and maintaining a home and the use of electricity and heating fuels over the course of a 70-year lifespan.

Turns out, the report found that more than 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions over a home’s 70-year life occur during occupancy and come from electricity and fuel consumption. That’s a big part of the reason why smaller homes have a smaller footprint. Reduce the size of the home by 50 percent, and lifecycle emissions shrink by 36 percent.

Here are some more highlights:

  • The biggest environmental benefits of a smaller home come from reduced electricity and fuel use, but also from avoiding additional material production.
  • Green building practices and energy efficiency measures can reduce the carbon footprint of a larger home.
  • More than 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions over a home’s 70-year life occur during occupancy and come from electricity and fuel consumption.
  • 14 percent of the emissions are tied to producing original and replacement building materials.
  • Constructing and maintaining the home account for 2 percent, and transportation of building materials account for less than 1 percent of the emissions.
  • Residential home construction, maintenance and demolition make up 10 to 15 percent of Oregon’s annual waste stream.
  • Only 6 percent of building material-related waste occurs during home construction.
  • 50 percent of the waste is generated during 70 years of home repairs and maintenance.
  • The remaining 44 percent comes from the home’s demolition.

“Results from this report are significant because they quantify the benefits of a variety of common green building practices, including reduced house size, on a consistent scale. That gives us a guide for the relative importance of each practice,” said Jordan Palmeri, the DEQ waste prevention specialist who oversaw the report’s commission and helped evaluate the report’s findings. “This will help DEQ and the residential building sector target waste prevention practices that maximize overall environmental benefit.”

This report is the last of two phases of DEQ’s assessment of waste prevention practices within the residential building sector.

In 2009, DEQ evaluated a list of 25 practices to identify building practices most likely to prevent residential building waste.

Reports from both phases are available on DEQ’s website at http://www.deq.state.or.us/lq/sw/wasteprevention/greenbuilding.htm.

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