People who work from home in England have “significantly” higher emissions than those who work in traditional settings like offices, research says

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People who work from home and heat more than one room will prompt significantly higher carbon emissions than those who work in an office, according to new research from the University of Sussex Business School.

The researchers are calling on home-workers only to heat the rooms they need, and on governments to help people live in more energy efficient homes.

In the new study, the Sussex researchers analysed recent data of over 400,000 dwellings in England, examining the carbon emissions associated with different patterns of home working, including variations in heating use and whether workers chose to heat their entire house or just one room.

The study found that homeworkers who heated only one room for one hour to 19 °C saw an increase in carbon emissions which was limited to 16% relative to those who work in an office. Those who heated their entire home for three hours a day saw emissions 117% higher than those who work in traditional settings, like offices.

The researchers also compared this data with their previous study to analyse whether the average homeworker has lower transport carbon emissions than those who don’t work from home at all. Using data from the English National Travel Survey, they found that even when transport is considered, working from home three to five days a week still increased carbon emissions by 24-30%, relative to conventional working patterns such as office-working.

In their new paper, the researchers emphasise the importance of a nationwide decarbonisation policy, including the installation of heat pumps and home insulation and the use of green energy.

Lead author, Yao Shi, a research student in the University of Sussex Business School, commented: “The findings in this study also run counter to the common expectation that home-working reduces energy use and carbon emissions with our results strongly suggesting that, counter-intuitively, home working has achieved little to no emission savings in England in the recent past.

“Covid lockdowns triggered a major culture shift with a growing population now regularly working from home and reaping benefits in terms of work-life balance and time spent with family members. In light of this, we think the government needs to consider home-workers’ extra energy expenditure.

“The findings raise a question of whether home-workers will now need more support for their energy bills, such as tax reduction and energy vouchers. The findings also support calls for better home insulation and improvement in heating systems such as heat pumps if homeworking is to be sustainable.”

The study, The impact of teleworking on domestic energy use and carbon emissions: An assessment for England is authored by Yao Shi, Prof Steven Sorrell and Prof Tim Foxon of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School.