The Carbon Footprint of Household Energy Use in the United States

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Residential energy use accounts for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. Using data on 93 million individual households, we estimate these GHGs across the contiguous United States and clarify the respective influence of climate, affluence, energy infrastructure, urban form, and building attributes (age, housing type, heating fuel) in driving these emissions. A ranking by state reveals that GHGs (per unit floor space) are lowest in Western US states and highest in Central states. Wealthier Americans have per capita footprints ∼25% higher than those of lower-income residents, primarily due to larger homes. In especially affluent suburbs, these emissions can be 15 times higher than nearby neighborhoods. If the electrical grid is decarbonized, then the residential housing sector can meet the 28% emission reduction target for 2025 under the Paris Agreement. However, grid decarbonization will be insufficient to meet the 80% emissions reduction target for 2050 due to a growing housing stock and continued use of fossil fuels (natural gas, propane, and fuel oil) in homes. Meeting this target will also require deep energy retrofits and transitioning to distributed low-carbon energy sources, as well as reducing per capita floor space and zoning denser settlement patterns.

climate change
built environment
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date Published: 
July 20, 2020
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Full Citation: 
Goldstein, Benjamin, Dimitrios Gounaridis, and Joshua P. Newell. (2020) “The Carbon Footprint of Household Energy Use in the United States.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117(32): 19122-19130.
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