Are energy efficient new homes better for climate change? It depends…


Climate change and housing are closely linked. For example, we’ve known for decades that car-dependent suburban areas result in more driving and higher GHG emissions. 

Apart from location and transportation, what about the GHG emissions from homes themselves? Compared to decades past, new homes are better insulated and are using more efficient heating systems, and double-pane or even triple-pane glass. 

It may be tempting to think we can reduce GHG emissions by replacing older, energy-leaking houses with new, energy-efficient houses. Unfortunately, building those new, energy-efficient single detached houses is actually worse for climate change emissions than keeping older, less-efficient houses. 

The manufacturing of concrete, steel, glass, and other building materials causes GHG emissions. And waste from demolition and construction also causes GHG emissions when it breaks down in landfills. It takes “an average of 168 years for efficiency gains to recover construction impacts.” (Source:

Denser forms of housing like townhomes, multiplexes etc have lower per-home emissions, and can “increase overall housing stock, address affordability and create a more vibrant public realm” (Source:

Yes, we can reduce emissions from housing. We need to add more of it in areas where we have more transportation choices, and we need a greater diversity of housing forms.