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Housing and cottage life

Housing is one of the most important choices in life – also in terms of the environment and climate. Whether you live in an urban apartment block or are an enthusiastic renovator of a detached house, you can influence the climate and energy consumption with your own actions.
A man with a small child in his arms painting the wall of a house.
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Housing accounts for a quarter of the average Finn's carbon footprint. The carbon footprint of housing consists of the emissions from the maintenance and use of the house, i.e. heating of the premises and water, cooling, and electricity consumption of home appliances. In addition, the construction of the house creates emissions.

Construction and demolition cause emissions, but the usage phase of an apartment is the most significant from a climate perspective. In older houses, 80 per cent of emissions are generated during the usage phase, but in newer and more energy-efficient apartments, the share is relatively lower. However, the share of material choices is increasing because emissions from electricity and district heating are rapidly decreasing.

We have many ways to influence the greenhouse gas emissions of housing with our choices. From the environmental point of view, the most important factors are the spaciousness and location of housing, the energy efficiency and energy renovations of residential buildings, and residential behaviour.

The decision-making powers over the energy consumption and emissions of housing varies according to both the type of building and the form of ownership. The owners of detached houses have a lot of decision-making power, while the decision-making power of a tenant in a housing company is more limited.

Be smart when choosing a home

When choosing an apartment, it is worth paying attention to how big an apartment you want and need, as this has an impact on the carbon footprint that is created every day. The larger the home, the more space there is to heat, and store stuff. When a person moves from an average-sized apartment (42 m2 per person) to an apartment ten square metres smaller, the annual carbon footprint of total consumption is reduced by approximately 6–7 per cent. 

In addition to spaciousness, location should be used as a selection criterion in relation to emissions. The distance between the home and various necessary services and the workplace, as well as the quality of the available transport connections and services, affect the emissions of mobility. 

When choosing an apartment, it is also important to pay attention to both the energy efficiency indicated in the energy certificate and any planned energy renovations. Any improvement in energy efficiency and even a partial transition to renewable and low-emission energy sources, such as geothermal heating, will have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of housing. 

The spaciousness and location of recreational dwellings are also central to greenhouse gas emissions and should be considered in the acquisition of second homes. At the summer cottage, the resident has decision-making power over the building's material and energy choices. Replacing energy sources with low-emission sources (for example, by using solar energy and air source heat pumps in electrically heated cottages) and optimising heating in winter – if heating is even needed – will reduce emissions.

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Build a detached house sustainably 

When planning the construction of a new house, it is important to include the climate perspective as early as possible, as this can affect greenhouse gas emissions throughout the entire life cycle of the house. Carbon footprint calculation can illustrate the impact of different solutions. Calculating the carbon footprint of construction projects will become compulsory even for detached houses by 2025. The calculation is performed by a designer or a consultant conducting climate assessments, who uses the emissions database for housebuilding products ( by the Finnish Environmental Institute. 

When building a house, the main heating system and the main building material have a major impact on the carbon footprint. A building is most likely to be low-carbon when it is designed to be very energy-efficient and the energy source for heating is emission-free or low-emission, such as geothermal heat. Wood is a low-emission material for the frame of the building due to its light weight and the renewable energy sources used in the production process. Standard carbon footprint calculations do not take into account the knock-on effects that using wood has on forest growth, but a report on wood construction and wood products sheds light on the matter. Puutuotteet hiilivarastona ja uusiutumattomien materiaalien korvaajina (in Finnish)

Building a house in energy class A costs 10 per cent more than building an ordinary house, but the investment is returned in the form of savings on heating costs.

As when choosing an apartment, room density and the location of the building have a significant impact on the personal carbon footprint of the residents. The bigger the house, the greater the need for heating and the more materials needed for construction and repair. 

Your living habits have an effect 

Living habits can have a significant impact on energy consumption: a wasteful family can use up to 50 per cent more energy than a sparingly living family, even if their homes are similar.

  • Regularly monitor your electricity, heat, and water consumption. Ask your energy service for information on your energy consumption.
  • In a housing company, you can influence energy issues by becoming an Energy Expert

Many housing-related issues have a significant impact on energy consumption and the emissions caused by it. In particular, you can achieve savings by:

  • Lowering the indoor temperature during the winter.
  • Adjusting and using ventilation as necessary.
  • Replacing domestic appliances and lamps with highly energy-efficient ones.
  • Reducing the use of the electric sauna. 
  • Reducing the number and, where possible, use of domestic equipment and lamps.
  • Using warm water in moderation.
  • Installing blinds and/or awnings and using them correctly to reduce the need for cooling and heating.

Make your house energy-efficient through renovation 

Energy renovations and improving the energy efficiency of houses are of great importance for the climate. The carbon footprint can be significantly affected by transitioning to renewable energy sources and by improving the structural energy efficiency of the building and domestic appliances. If you live in a detached house, you can (depending on financial resources available) decide on energy renovations yourself, you can also influence your housing company, neighbourhood or residential area and promote sustainable choices. 

A well-insulated building provides a functional basis for future upgrades of building services equipment and the energy-efficient functioning of the whole. Heating systems in well-insulated buildings can be dimensioned for lower power needs, which saves on future equipment costs and the dimensioning of building-specific renewable energy systems. The basic principle of structural repairs is that energy repairs are carried out as the need for structural repair arises from a sustainability perspective. 

With energy repairs of the outer surface, savings of about 20 per cent can be achieved in apartment buildings from the 1960s–80s. The impact of various measures and their combinations can be easily assessed in housing companies using VTT's E-PASS tool. Mechanical supply and exhaust ventilation with heat recovery improves living comfort, does not cause draughts, and significantly saves heating costs. As the installation requires ducting in apartments, it is smart to do as a part of a larger renovation. In apartment blocks, this solution can reduce district heating consumption by up to 30 per cent, which also has a significant impact on emissions. Solar electricity can increase energy self-sufficiency. Significant savings can be achieved simply by checking and adjusting the heating system.

In a detached house, abandoning oil heating is one of the most important things in terms of emissions savings. In an energy renovation of a detached house, ensuring structural energy efficiency is the best starting point. Significant measures to take in energy renovations to achieve emission reductions include:

  • Reducing delivered energy by utilising heat pumps and heat recovery in the heating of rooms and domestic water. 
  • Reducing delivered electricity by installing solar cells.
  • Implementing smart control and consumption flexibility for optimising the use of electricity, and using building services equipment and automation to diminish the need for heating and ventilation.
  • Reducing delivered energy needed for heating with solar collectors.
  • Reducing the consumption of hot water by using water-saving appliances. 

It is possible to receive financial assistance for energy efficiency repairs; it is therefore advisable to find out what the current situation is concerning this.

A man installing solar panels on a roof. Solar electricity can increase energy self-sufficiency.
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  • Hiilihelppi. 2021. Hiilihelppi - Everyman's climate tips.
  • Traficom. 2021. Liikenteen kasvihuonekaasupäästöt ja energiankulutus (in Finnish, Greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption of traffic(
  • Ojanen, T., Nykänen, E., Hemmilä, K. 2017. Rakenteellinen energiatehokkuus korjausrakentamisessa. Opas (pdf) 2017. (in Finnish, Structural energy efficiency in rebuilding)
  • Soimakallio S., Häkkinen T. ja Seppälä J. 2021. Puutuotteet hiilivarastona ja uusiutumattomien materiaalien korvaajina. Puurakentamisen lisäämisen vaikutukset kasvihuonekaasutaseisiin Suomessa. Suomen ympäristökeskuksen raportteja 45 / 2021. (in Finnish, Wood products as carbon stock and substitutes for non-renewable materials. The effects of increasing wood construction on greenhouse gas balances in Finland. Finnish Environment Institute’s reports 45 / 2021.)
  • Tarja Häkkinen, Jyri Seppälä, Johanna Niemistö, Jarek Kurnitski. 2022. Asumisen kasvihuonekaasujen säästöpotentiaali. (Ei vielä julkaistu.) (in Finnish, The potential for greenhouse gas savings in housing, not yet published)


Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)
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