RV life has been decried as environmentally unfriendly, mostly because of the 10-to-12.5 miles per gallon of gasoline motorhomes use. However, their carbon footprint is still likely much less than that of house dwellers, especially if driving the RV is limited to shorter distances. The limitations that come with life in a smaller space may, in fact, be a boon to a planet threatened by global warming.
Usually, motorhomes are heated with some kind of propane-powered heater, whether catalytic, radiant or forced-air. Some use electric heat. Homes also use gas or electricity for heat. However, because homes are larger, often much larger, than RVs, they almost always use more energy to heat. Since electricity is often made in coal-fired power plants, its carbon footprint isn't predictably better than propane's. Therefore, motorhomes have a lower carbon footprint in heating because there is simply less space to heat. Additionally, RVs often migrate to warmer climates in the winter, lowering their need for heating. Still, both motorhomes and houses would do well to add insulation and double-paned windows wherever possible.
As it turns out, vacationing in a motorhome has a lower carbon footprint than going on the same length and distance conventional fly/drive/hotel vacation. As for non-vacation use, the impacts of an RV-dweller's travel and a house-dweller's travel varies. A mostly stationary RV-dweller probably uses less fuel per year than a house-dweller who commutes each day and uses planes for vacations. Some RVs, cars or trucks can be converted to use biodiesel fuel or vegetable oil in their gas tanks, creating another variable in determining which has a lower carbon footprint.
Lights and Appliances
Many newer RVs use solar power for at least part of their electricity needs. Running electricity off of the battery can cause an RV's battery to run down more quickly, creating an extra hassle, so extensive electricity use is discouraged. Additionally, there isn't room for many of the electricity-gulping appliances found in homes, like plasma TVs, multiple computers and motorized kitchen appliances. There is less space to light with lightbulbs, and more time is spend outdoors. Thus, unless a small, efficient house with conservative energy usage is compared to a gadget-filled RV, the RVs win a lower carbon footprint.
Other Environmental Factors
Water disposal is an environmental concern with RVs, since sometimes it can be hard to find an environmentally safe place to dump wastewater, and since toxic chemicals are used to control bacteria in the wastewater while it remains in the vehicle. Still, RV-dwellers generally use less water because they can only carry a limited amount with them, and because they do not have lawns to water. Another environmental concern is trash. It may be hard for RV-dwellers to dispose of trash easily. This can result in litter, or in less consumption and waste, making trash either a pro or a con in judging how green RVs can be.
- RV Lifestyle; RV Tips; A Seasonal Hot Topic: Furnaces; Garth W. Cane
- Go RVing: RV Vacations Leave Smaller Carbon Footprint; PFK Consulting
- Everything About RVing; RVs Are Good for the Environment; Randall Eaton
- Family RVing: RVs are Environmentally Smart
- Green Living Tips; Toilet Chemicals and the Environment; October 2009
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