Thursday, May 1, 2008

Carbon Footprint and Energy Efficiency

The goal of our blogs is to help diffuse any confusion about sustainable design and building your new green home, whether it is post and beam, timber frame, structural insulated panels, or a conventionally-built energy efficient home and also how we can all be a little greener in our existing homes. You may be building a new green home and want more information on green options available to you (based on your site location, budget, and availability of materials). We also discuss energy systems, how they affect our daily lives, and what decisions you’ll have to make in building a new green home - and also let you know if we find any tax incentives (see our blog on Solar Energy Systems).

Everyone’s going green (even the Oscars, The Superbowl, and the National Football League!) and talking about energy efficiency – especially around this time of year (Earth Day was April 22nd). So what’s the big fuss? I thought a good topic for my first blog would be the commonly-used green buzz words, “carbon footprint”. What exactly is our carbon footprint, why is it important that we reduce it, and how can we?

Our carbon footprint is basically how much carbon we produce through all of our activities. When it’s in the air, carbon combines with two oxygen molecules to form carbon dioxide (CO2). Plants absorb carbon dioxide, along with sunlight, to form their food (the process of photosynthesis). The carbon becomes part of the plant and the oxygen is released. When the plants die, their carbon goes into the earth and over a long period of time become fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.

Humans and animals do the opposite – we breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide into the air. Breathing isn’t considered to be the problem here, fortunately – it’s the world’s industrialization that has caused too much carbon to be released into the atmosphere. A huge problem is our growing need for electricity. Other contributors are burning fossil fuels and our dependency on transportation.

Our earth is surrounded by a unique atmosphere which keeps the planet's temperature regulated by preventing infrared heat energy from escaping, referred to as the “natural greenhouse effect”. This keeps the earth around 91.4°F (33°C) warmer than it would be without an atmosphere, at an average of 59°F (compared to our moon which has no atmosphere and has an average surface temperature of -0.4°F). The problem worsens when too much infrared heat energy is emitted into the atmosphere. As we burn non-renewable energy sources, (fossil fuels) coal, oil, and gas, to heat and cool our homes, “greenhouse gases” including carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor build up in our atmosphere as heat. The more heat builds up in our atmosphere, the more the earth’s temperature rises, thus global warming.

Our carbon footprint, the amount of carbon dioxide we create in our lives, is measure in pounds. Yahoo! has a neat tool to calculate your individual or family’s carbon footprint. Check it out at Our next blog will outline some ways to reduce our carbon footprint.

Jackie Lampiasi, Marketing Director
Bonin Architects & Associates, PLLC

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