Heating and powering our homes can add to the pollution outdoors.

Many sources of heat, cooling and power for our homes exist

Heating and cooling our homes takes energy, and around the nation, many sources provide that essential energy. Some comes from electricity produced by large utilities, but much comes from other sources, including at our own homes. The fuels used can have impacts on indoor and outdoor air quality in and around your home. 

  • Electricity heats both our homes and water, as well as cools our homes and powers our lives. The outdoor air pollution impacts of producing that electricity are discussed in Electric Utilities.
  • Natural gas is the primary non-electric fuel used in homes in the U.S. and is transported into our homes through a large pipeline supply system. More information about outdoor air pollution from natural gas can be found in Electric Utilities and Transportation. Natural gas can be a source of air pollution indoors. More information about reducing indoor air pollution from natural gas can be found in Protect Your Air At Home.
  • Heating oil and propane are primarily used in the Northeastern U.S. and in rural areas. Fuel oil can contain high levels of sulfur. Propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas or LPG, is a byproduct of natural gas and petroleum refining. More on oil and gas can be found at Transportation and Electric Utilities.
  • Burning wood, as well as corn and wood pellets in stoves, wood heaters and fireplaces, is used to heat homes in much of the nation.  Hydronic heaters, called outdoor wood boilers, burn wood and other fuels to heat water and provide heat through an underground pipeline to the residence. More information about wood burning.
  • Solar power ranges from passive solar, which means designing a building to capture and hold sunlight, to active solar, which uses technology, such as photovoltaics, to convert sunlight into energy.
  • Geothermal energy uses heat collected from deep underground to provide heat in the winter or to cool the home in the summer by transferring heat back underground. 

Heating and powering our home affects the air we breathe

Emissions from sources providing residential heat and power directly impact lung health and contribute to ground-level ozone and fine particle air pollution. While residential sources contribute far less pollution nationwide than electric utilities and transportation, they can still be significant sources of dangerous pollutants, especially in a neighborhood.

Direct impacts. Emissions directly released include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, as well as hazardous pollutants that can cause cancer and other health problems. Even wood burning, one of the oldest sources of heat, produces gases known to cause cancer.

Particle Pollution. Particle pollution forms directly, seen as ash and soot, or indirectly, as the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide gases convert into particles once they reach the outside air. The latter are so tiny they can blow hundreds of miles from the source.

Ozone Pollution. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide from these sources react in the air with other gases to form ozone pollution, the nation's most widespread air pollutant. Ozone can also spread across thousands of miles.

Page last updated: August 7, 2023

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