How Extreme Weather is Changing Our Lives and Homes

As climate change worsens, extreme weather has become increasingly common in many parts of the country and the world. People are now beginning to change the way they protect their homes and how they think about climate change.

In 2020, according to NOAA, disaster events caused $95 billion in damages, more than double the 41-year average of $45.7 billion. Extreme weather events include tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, flooding, heat waves, and periods of freezing weather. Each of these events can cause damage to your house if it’s not properly prepared or protected.

A recent consumer survey conducted by Sense confirms that extreme weather has changed people’s thinking. In the past year, 58% of homeowners experienced extreme weather in their own neighborhoods. Severe weather increased utility bills or damaged the homes of many homeowners (41%). And almost half of those surveyed said that they had taken steps in the last year to look to reduce their energy consumption.

While many simple changes in the home can help reduce your energy consumption, there are also a few bigger ticket items that address the impact extreme weather has on the home. For example, backup electrical generators can reduce the effects of power outages caused by extreme weather. Costs can start at $3000 and range much higher. Before you invest in a generator, though, consider the carbon impacts. Most backup generators are powered by diesel, propane or natural gas, all of which fall into the category of high carbon fuels.

A lower carbon approach is solar panels combined with a battery to get your home through a power loss. If you have solar panels already, battery backup can be pricey with costs in the $5000 to $7,000 range, but the additional cost adds an extra layer of protection for both your home and the environment. It not only protects from power outages but also supports a renewable electrical source for your home, drastically reducing your energy bill.

One final home investment is fireproof roofing shingles. In areas where wildfires are common, fireproof shingles and other fireproof housing material can drastically reduce the effect of forest fires and may save your home from destruction. There are many different types of fireproof roofing shingles to accommodate a variety of needs but they’re not cheap. Fiberglass shingles will cost around $50-100 per shingle compared to about $6-9 per square foot for recycled rubber tile shingles and $1-2 per square foot for asphalt shingles.

Above: California wildfires approaching a residential community

In Sense’s survey, about a third of all U.S. homeowners (34%) added backup generators, solar panels with batteries or fireproof siding or roofing in the past year. Considering the high costs of these investments, their adoption by so many homeowners is a testament to the destructiveness of extreme weather. Most of the people who made these changes (71%) were taking action to address the impacts of extreme weather on their own homes.

For many people, though, heat waves and frigid weather are bigger culprits when it comes to higher electricity bills and unexpected blackouts. For this kind of extreme weather, the key is keeping your systems running efficiently and minimizing heat or cooling losses. Our survey found that nearly a third of Americans took smart, practical steps over the past year such as maintaining or upgrading their HVAC system (29%) or tightening up their home’s envelope with insulation or upgraded windows (27%). These are exactly the steps that can both cut costs and trim energy usage which helps to mitigate climate change.

If you wonder whether your individual efforts make a difference, consider this data from an analysis of Sense homes. We found that the 20% of homes that used the most energy for cooling compared to similar homes actually account for 45% of all cooling consumption nationwide. Updating these least efficient homes across the country could save 8% of US residential electricity usage overall and eliminate nearly 52M tons of CO2 emissions annually. So if your heating and cooling bills seem too high or you can see in the Sense app that your cooling isn’t efficient, take action! Everything you do to reduce your energy usage has a positive impact on climate change.

Extreme weather doesn’t take place in a vacuum. The rapid increase in fossil fuel emissions is affecting our atmosphere and fueling extreme weather. As individuals, we can make an impact on our own carbon emissions and slow climate change together. Besides making larger investments to your home like backup generators, solar panels with batteries, and fireproof roofing there are other ways to increase your energy efficiency and decrease your carbon footprint. Transitioning towards renewable energy in different forms is key. Choosing energy efficient appliances, updating aging systems, and replacing when necessary can make a large impact to increase your own energy efficiency and slow climate change.

Hannah Bardei contributed this blog. This spring, Hannah has been working as a Sense intern through a program at Minuteman High School in Lexington, Massachusetts.