How much does housing affect the climate?| key4.ch

Fact check: how much does housing affect the climate?

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23.03.2022 | 3 Minutes

Many of us already know that diet and consumer behavior affect the climate. That’s why some people have stopped eating meat and no longer chase after every fashion trend. But what about our homes?  Does the way we live have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately on the environment?

Assertion: the way we live influences our ecological footprint.

Let’s start with the bitter truth: Yes, having a roof over our heads automatically harms the climate. After consumption, mobility and food, housing ranks fourth on the list of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Our homes are responsible for about a quarter of the environmental impact generated by Switzerland. Heating and general energy consumption are among the most damaging elements in relation to housing. According to the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, the Swiss population produces about 1.63 tons of CO2 and consumes 5,000 watts of energy a year merely from their homes. However, the extent to which our accommodation pollutes the environment depends on various factors. The construction method, the inhabited surface area and the type of heating installed all affect the environmental standard of living. As a tenant, it’s often difficult to influence these aspects. Homeowners, on the other hand, have more ways of reducing their ecological footprint.

Sustainability is determined during the construction stage

The eco-balance is actually influenced during the initial construction of a house. The CO2 emissions and the energy produced and consumed in this process affect how sustainable our life will turn out to be. Various different resources are used to build a house or apartment. The ecological footprint partly depends on whether these materials are renewable or artificial. Wood, for example, is much more sustainable than concrete

Sustainability can also be improved later on – even in older buildings, for example with carefully targeted renovation or rehabilitation measures. In Switzerland, around one million houses are so poorly insulated that they require energy-efficient renovation work. Often, for example, houses built before 2000 do not meet today’s standards in terms of insulation (source: energie-experten.org). This type of investment can massively reduce energy consumption and hence CO2 emissions caused by housing.

Every square meter affects emissions

Most people in Switzerland want more space to live in – and not just since the coronavirus pandemic. But as noted by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), greenhouse gas emissions increase with each additional square meter. The number of people who jointly occupy an area is particularly crucial. So if you want to save the earth’s resources, it’s advisable to think about reducing your living space or sharing it with others. The FOEN recommendation is about 35m2 per person.

A home that is too warm has a negative impact on our carbon footprint

The influence of heating on our carbon footprint is often underestimated. On average, about 1.6 tons of CO2 are emitted per year and per person through heating. Oil heating systems, with emissions of 4.7 tons of CO2 per year, and natural gas heating systems, which produce approximately 3.6 tons of CO2 per year, play a particularly important role. As explained by WWF, it’s more environmentally friendly to heat directly with solar energy, a heat pump, pellets or wood. As a condominium owner, you only have a limited influence on the choice of heating. The situation is different if you are a homeowner. If you are considering changing your heating system, it’s a good idea to find out about the subsidies available in your canton of residence. In fact, some cantons support this type of project with financial incentives

If you want an easier way to do your bit, you can achieve a lot simply by not turning up the heating full blast, even in winter, but only making your home as warm as it really needs to be. As described by WWF, a reduction of two to three degrees is usually enough to make a positive impact. As a general rule, you should remember that the temperature indoors should never rise above 21 degrees.

Do you want to know how high your personal footprint is? Then just take this test.

Is green electricity the solution to our climate problem?

To work on a laptop, charge a smartphone or even watch TV in the evening: nowadays, energy is needed constantly and in large quantities. We can have a positive impact on CO2 consumption simply by purchasing green electricity. However, anyone who opts for green electricity in the interests of sustainable living should be aware that they are not necessarily obtaining the more sustainable alternative from their power sockets. This is because the electricity we receive is always a mix of the total electricity supply. Coal, nuclear and solar energy, wind and hydropower – they all help to make up the electricity we buy. Indirectly, however, someone who purchases green electricity is still making a substantial contribution. As demand for more sustainable alternatives increases, suppliers in turn will do more to promote them. At the end of the day, this will make the electricity mix in Switzerland more environmentally friendly in general. 

It’s worth purchasing new household appliances

More sustainable living also means taking a closer look at the energy consumption of household appliances. Older and inefficient appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, washing machines and tumble dryers can be real power guzzlers. Anyone who wants to upgrade their home ecologically should also carefully check all these devices. New energy efficiency categories have been in place in Switzerland and the EU since 2021. Each household appliance has a sticker with a scale indicating its efficiency in terms of energy consumption. G stands for the worst category and A+++ for the best.

Conclusion: it’s true, housing really does have an impact on our ecological footprint.

In addition to consumption and diet, the way we live is actually a major factor that can be very damaging to the environment. The upside is that there are many options available to homeowners, or people wishing to buy a home, that allow them to minimize their negative impact on the environment.


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