Proof from the EPA that Vandwelling is Greener than House Dwelling

This is a friends very affordable full-time set-up. It’s a 1982 Class C towing a 1998 Ford Festiva. You’d think it was terrible for the environment, but the truth is it’s at least three times better than if he lived in a stick-n-brick house. In this post I’ll prove it to you!

This is going to be my final post about the environment for awhile, I promise! I don’t want to belabor this any more than I have to, but many of you commented that because there are no good solutions to the Climate Change crisis, why was I bothering to write about it at all?  Today’s post is my answer to that; there is a solution and it’s moving into a van! By living in a car, van or RV you can easily cut the amount of  carbon you spew into the atmosphere  (called your carbon footprint) in half or even by two-thirds!! No, you aren’t going to save the world that way, but if enough people do it, we can make a difference.

There are always two predictable reactions to these kinds of posts:

  • You’re a hypocrite because you still depend on the system that is killing the planet. Where did the gas for your van or the computer you are using come from? My responses is that while I am not cutting my carbon footprint by 100% I’m cutting it by much more than 50%, and that’s very well worth doing.  All or nothing thinking that says “I won’t do anything if it can’t do it 100% perfectly.”  guarantees a miserable future for generations to come.
  • Since it’s impossible for all of us to live in a van, none of us needs to do it. I’m only responsible and accountable for my actions–everyone else can live any way they want. Future generations are going to have to live with the terrible environmental mess we are leaving them and they’re going to blame and curse us for our selfishness in only thinking about how we can live in luxury and leaving them to fight for their lives against our environmental legacy. I don’t want that on my conscience.

Each of us must live our lives by the light we’ve been given, and for me to know about the environmental devastation that is coming and to do nothing about it would deeply offend my sense of morality. I can’t live with myself if I act that selfishly. Especially since living in a car, van or RV makes my life so very much happier, healthier and content, why wouldn’t I follow my conscience!!

Humans CAN dramatically impact the planets health. It's time for you and i to take our responsibility seriously for it.

Humans CAN dramatically impact the planets health. It’s time for you and I to take our responsibility for it seriously and reduce our carbon footprint.

Proof from the EPA

To make it easier for us individually to improve our carbon footprint (the total amount of carbon we each put into the atmosphere) the EPA has a calculator that lets you plug in your numbers (in the form of monthly payments for utilities and the MPG and miles driven per year for your vehicle) and they calculate the amount of carbon you leave in the atmosphere. Most importantly it compares your carbon footprint to the National average.

In this post using screenshots from the EPA calculator to compare different vandwelling scenarios to the national average. It’s important to realize that while the tool may not be 100% accurate, that isn’t it’s goal. What it does do very well is compare lifestyle choices we each make and see what the consequences are of our choices. I’ve highlighted the relevant fields in the screen shots, if the text is hard to read, your browser can zoom in, (some browsers use “CNTRL +” to zoom in and “CNTRL -” to zoom out).

Find the calculator at

Scenario 1: Typical Van with Single Person

This is basically my life in a 2001 Chevy van traveling about 7000 miles a year and getting 13 MPG. When I lived in a house and worked a job I actually drove more miles because I had a 15 mile one-way commute to work every day and then I took trips on the weekends. Today I don’t have any commute and only travel a few months in the summer. I drive more in the summer, but much less in the winter.

Step 1: How Many Live in Your Household?

The first step is to enter the number of people in your household and your zip code. The number of people in your househols chaned al the calculations but the zip cod did not. As of now, that isn't working.

The first step is to enter the number of people in your household and your zip code. The number of people  changed all the calculations but the zip code did not. As of now, that isn’t working. I’m single so I entered one. For the couple in a Class C, I entered 2.

Step 2: How Much Carbon do You Burn for Utilities?


My next step is to enter my utilities. You have to tell it what you use for heating and I said propane. You can’t enter zero so although I make all my own electricity from the sun I said I spent $1 on electricity. I believe I average 2 gallons of propane per month for cooking and heat so I said $6 for it. On the right is a running total of my carbon output and the national average.

On the screenshot above you can see the national average for a single person is 7698 pounds of carbon per month for utilities, mine is 482, a massive improvement!  Had I entered Fuel Oil my Carbon savings would have been much higher because it is a dirty fuel. Had I chosen Natural Gas my Carbon savings would have been slightly lower because it is a slightly cleaner fuel.

Step 3: Carbon Footprint from Driving

Finally you enter your driving from driving. This is where I get hurt because of my poor MPG.

Finally, you enter your carbon footprint from driving. This is where I get hurt because of my poor MPG. On the right, in the shaded box, is a running total of my carbon footprint compared to the national average–a little more than half! It’s something to be very pleased with!!

Here you can see that my poor MPG really hurts me but even so I’m still nearly half as much as the national average. I’m very pleased with that, especially since living like a nomad actually makes my life far BETTER!

Scenario 2: Two people in a Class C Towing an Economy Car.

This is a very realistic scenario based on a friend of mine. He and his girlfriend left their old lives and bought a 24 foot, 1982 Chevy Class C and tow a 1998 Ford Festiva. The two together only cost $6000 so most of us can realistically afford it. He’s since put a new engine into the Class C which cost another $4000, but that’s still only $10,000 total. Since there are two of them, the national average carbon footprint goes up dramatically but theirs only goes up a little because they have solar and use a Mr. Buddy for heat. While the Class C gets 7 MPG, they drive it the minimal amount per year and take the Festiva to explore and daily driving. Because it gets 40 MPG on the highway, their average MPG between the two is very high.

The calculator lets you enter the two cars since most American households have two. You can see they save a phenomanal amount of caron into the air by living in an old Class C.

The calculator lets you enter the two cars since most American households have two. You can see they prevent a phenomenal amount of carbon from being pumped into the air by living in an old Class C.

This is where you start to see huge savings in your carbon footprint because the average couple lives in much larger homes and burn more utilities and drive two cars more often.  They cut their carbon footprint by a third!! Even if my friend burned double the propane for heat and hot water and doubled the amount they drive, they would still be much less than half of the national average. My friend lives so frugally this is a very realistic guess of his carbon footprint.

Scenario 3: Living in a Mini-van or Dodge Cummins Diesel

Next I want to look at a single person living in a mini-van or Dodge Cummins diesel and averaging around 20 MPG. This is a totally realistic scenario that nearly all of us can accomplish. In fact you can get close to this living in a full-size van. The newer vans easily average 17 MPG and get up to 20 MPG on the highway. If you carry a bicycle or a scooter, nearly any of us can do this good.


By living in a mini-van, your carbon footprint is less than half of the average American single person.

I camped with my very good friend Suanne for two months. She spends very large chunks of the year living out of her Prius, and I can assure you she has a very good life! Getting an average of 45 MPG makes it even better!

Scenario 4: Living in a Prius

For most of us it’s impossible to imagine living in such a small space but there are people who do it! It’s mainly possible because of the very smart design that Toyota did with the Prius giving it much more room than you would expect. It also has the advantage that it’s a huge generator on wheels so you can have climate control while living in it with very little impact on the environment.  I have several friends who live in a Prius and they can leave the air conditioning and the heat on all night and not run their battery down or burn all that much gas. Maybe their MPG will drop from 45 to 40 if they leave the air conditioner or heater on–that’s still pretty darn good!!

As you can guess, a person who lives in a Prius is an Environmental Superstar!

Living in a Prus has the lowest of all the carbon footprints and is about a third of the average for a single person.

Living in a Prius has the lowest of all the carbon footprints and is about a third of the average for a single person.

Vandwelling: Do it for Yourself, Do it for the Planet

I’m well aware that  very few people would ever consider making such a radical change in their lives just to reduce their carbon footprint, but you don’t have to! If you’re reading my blog, there must be some part of your heart that longs for the simple, free life of a Nomad. The fact that you become an environmental superstar is just icing on the cake!

My goal in this post is to give you one more reason to make the leap.  If you don’t love yourself enough to give yourself your best possible life (and most of us don’t–I didn’t) then do it for your future grandchildren and for the planet–and you’ll get a great life as a side-benefit!

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.


A great book to help you understand your carbon footprint. Get it from Amazon here: How Bad Are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything
Cut your carbon footprint with your own solar power: Renogy 200 Watts Solar Bundle Kit
Stay warm in your van or RV and burn much less carbon: Mr. Heater Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Radiant Heater
Stay cool without burning any carbon! Shatex 90% UV Block Shade Cloth, with Grommets,Black,10 x 16ft
Get warm water from the sun without any fossil fuel: Viking Solar Camping Shower Bag
Use the sun to do much of your cooking: Sun Oven- The Ultimate Solar Appliance


I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

45 comments on “Proof from the EPA that Vandwelling is Greener than House Dwelling
  1. Calvin R says:

    My grandchildren are already here (from teenagers to the one born yesterday), and it’s very sobering. I can’t change the behaviors of politicians or of billions of other people, but at least I can do my bit and show an example.

    Thank you for the concrete comparison. That calculator gives me a way to consider many options. Also, it occurs to me as I write this that those of us with medical electronics (CPAP, etc.) could use the Prius battery in a very functional way, and that would save us some work building a system that we might not be in good enough shape to make. I assume the other hybrid vehicles now available would function in a similar way.

    I have not done studies on this, but in my reading on vehicular living and homelessness the Prius people seem to appreciate their lives more than anyone else. I’m not sure why, but I have noticed that.

  2. Lynn says:

    You ideas work for those that a. Want to live like that and b. Live in a climate where you won’t freeze your butt off. Look to Norway for inspiration on living cleaner in a colder climate!!


    • Bob Bob says:

      Lynn, if the climate scientists are right, living like what we want is about to plunge the world into an eco-catastrophe. There may have been a time when we could just make some adjustments and been okay. Those days have come and gone.

      Today, it’s no longer a question of getting what we want, we’ve burned that bridge behind us. Now the question is how extreme do we have to be to have any hope.

    • Calvin R says:

      As far as people who “live in a climate that won’t freeze your butt off,” those in vehicles solve that problem by driving.

      • Bob Bob says:

        Calvin, Lynn was saying she WANTS to live in a cold climate and not be forced to move to stay warm. My answer is that humans were created and evolved to live with what they NEED, not what they WANT.

        Our WANTS are unlimited and trying to fulfill them will greatly damage our eco-system.
        Our NEEDS are few, and following them will allow us to live in harmony with the planet, it’s creatures and each other.


  3. Sameer says:

    I think my footprint must be tiny. Stayed East of Winslow for the month of October. Three trips to Walmart. 42 miles… 4 cans of butane. 2 # propane.
    Now, heading South. Then sit in warm weather and soak up the sun. The corridor that a lot of us travel yearly is not that many miles.
    Sameer recently posted…Proof from the EPA that Vandwelling is Greener than House DwellingMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Sameer, having camped with you many times, I’m ready to say you are an Environmental Superstar!! You can go to bed at night knowing you are living the life humans were born to live, in harmony with nature and his fellow creatures and man.

      No one can ask or hope for more!

      • Lucy says:

        One important way to decrease our carbon footprint would be using the sun & the wind to dry our clothes, but no way many H O A’s will allowed to do ‘ that ‘ I have got more than one notice from the ‘ chiefs ‘ of the place I live because they caught me with my clothes drying on a clothes-line… shame on me, what a
        bad person I am for doing so !!!

        • Lucy says:

          If you go to Europe, to southamerica & most parts of the world U see clothes-lines with cloths hanging to dry even in the largest cities, in the U.S. those who do so are considered scum, lowlifes or the like, how dare we to save energy using the sun & wind to perform such a BARBARIC practice !!

        • Bob Bob says:

          The world has gone mad Lucy–no doubt about that!

  4. jeff says:

    Maybe we will naturally evolve towards another ice age ( like the one about 10,000 years ago ) and this will offset our dilema but I doubt it.Maybe there will be enough technology in the future to help us get through this but I doubt it. Time will tell. Your website is very inspirational and at times depressing.( In a good way) Keep on keeping on!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Jeff, I agree with your thinking, may people take an almost magical view of the future, waiting for a miracle to happen to solve our problems for us.

      I read something that goes like “The unintended consequences of technology got us into the huge mess we are in, but we are still hoping that new technology will save us. It’s more likely that it will never come, and if it does, what horrible unintended consequences will it have?”


      • jeff says:

        Unfortunately our technology is also killing us in other ways. People have been becoming sedentary from lack of activity (sitting in front of computers, TV, etc.) In my travels I have been to many Mcdonalds restaurants for the free wifi and have noticed the tremendous amount of obese people eating there. Obeseity is a big killer! When I commune with nature and take my walks I know Im doing something good for myself.

        • Bob Bob says:

          I agree totally Jeff!! Even worse is the incredible power of STRESS. We’re learning that stress is a big player in the epidemic of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Our modern lives are just one big stress factory that is killing us slowly.

          Living in a van isn’t just good or the planet, it is good for each of us body, soul and spirit.

  5. Cathy P. says:

    Other than mobile living, there aren’t choices. I was looking at micro houses for some time and there is almost no where that they are allowed. I had a time where I was trying to help a group out and what I learned was that those in the state controlling “environmental” had a very lop-sided view of it, pro-business/contractors. They weren’t interested in my “But”. It was very frustrating.

    We have handled milder winters in a entry level TT, ice storms, hurricane and some snow.

    Most places here won’t allow a single wide mobile home to be set up on “private” land as it must be a minimum of a double wide, usually with a separate 2 car garage, etc. They even specify roof overhang in inches.

    I am happy to see the mobile life in all of its forms taking off as well as the micro houses. Young people don’t sink into debt, others get out of debt and older people won’t end up losing their homes in the end trying to keep up with expenses and I watch that happening here all the time.

    I keep telling myself that our ancestors were survivors and they figured it out and deep down that spirit still lives in us.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Joyce, I agree, government rules are ever tightening against unconventional living. Conformity is the highest demand of our society. We can be as weird as we want in unimportant ways, but in all the important things we have to fit in and do as we are told and expected.

      It’ll probably only get worse.

      • gingerperth says:

        have you noticed how regulations are strict and enforced against the majority of the population, but the regulations affecting the corporations and banks, that do most of the damage, are weak, rarely enforced or the penalties are so low that the corporations believe the fines are just a minor cost of making a profit? this is not surprising considering how the 1% who have accumulated (stolen from the majority) excessive wealth are using those funds to buy elections, politicians, regulators and courts.

        • Bob Bob says:

          gingerperth, I’m not sure I understand, there are virtually no environmental regulations against the general population, but many against corporations and they are pretty strictly enforced. Do you mean other kinds of regulations?

    • hotrod says:

      Cathy p.,

      I have been reasurching for years on this subject. Almost all places have adopted IBC 2014. with the addition of zoning codes and HOA inforcments one is left with little options. Many home that are green made from tires or cob, hey bails, etc.. , like in the Arizona Desert are grandfathered in. then could never be built today. What a shame. The code does allow for non permitted buildings of small size say around 200 sq.ft or less. I suggest reading the code and making a move as soon as you can. Yes I think the situation will only get worse. The international criminals are looking to steal very thing from all of us any way they can. Good luck.

  6. Dick says:

    One does not have to live in a van to get good numbers on the calculator. We live in a 2000s/f home, have 3 vehicles, live very comfortably, and our calculated Co2 emissions came to 8921.

  7. hotrod says:

    Look up “climate gate” in 2009. At the UN there is talk of global carbon taxes coming to a way of life near you. Taxing you into poverty while people like Al gore fly around in lear jets and have huge, I repeat huge massive homes. Forcing people to be hot during summers and cold during winters while they live in the lap of luxury. It is a crime. Lets do something to improve water and air and better foods and eating non-contaminated crops but, lets also understand that there is fraud being perpetrated on us be the elite. Be careful what you ask for! That’s my 2 cents you might need it for all the taxes they will impose on you.

    love the van shower very much what I had in mind for my arrangement.

    • jeff says:

      Reminds me of some of the Bible bangers out there like the Pope and Joel Olstein. Hypocrosy lives on.

    • Bob Bob says:

      hotrod, I’m not willing to cause an eco-catastrophe because I hate Al Gore or to avoid more taxes. Compared to the extreme importance of the problem, those just seem like little, tiny, petty concerns. Climate change has just barely started and yet it is already having extreme affects all around the globe.

      Yes, I’m willing to pay a carbon tax to prevent that. I’ll just drive less, go further off-grid and buy less stuff so it will have little impact on me.

  8. Lenora says:

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for all you do. I’m inspired by you.
    I see that you are passionate about climate change.
    Have you ever considered being vegan to reduce your footprint even more?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Lenora, no I haven’t. I have switched to grass-fed beef and cage free eggs, but that is so the animals won’t be tortured, not for the environment. However, I do think it is better for the environment. I spend all summer in the National Forests and I’m surrounded by cattle eating grass and drinking natural-source water. They have a very low impact on the environment. If course it’s still bad for the environment, but I guess I’m just not ready to go that far.

  9. Steve says:

    Well, in contrast here is proof from the DOE (Department of Energy, that there are buildings and houses that are greener that van living. It’s called Zero Energy Homes. It is the way things are heading and there are homes and buildings right now that are using Zero energy. Here is the DOE site. It has lots of interesting information, videos and examples of real life situations.

    I am one of the believers in the technology of saving our planet and saving money at the same time. And to be very comfortable as well.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Steve, having lived in Alaska all my life I’m familiar with what was then called Super-insulated homes. When I built a house I looked into it but it was all so expensive I decided against adapting any of it’s principles. The simplest and most effective was to simply build two 2×4 stud walls that alternated the studs so the heat could never travel directly through to the outside as well as doubled the R-Value. But essentially it doubled the price of the house and I couldn’t afford that.

      It’s a great idea, but too impractical to make any real difference NOW:

      1) I have to wonder what percentage of the homes in the country are Zero Energy, I suspect it is a very tiny number.
      2) Then I have to wonder what the carbon cost will be to replace all the exiting homes with those new homes. Trees have to be cut down and transported and a whole bunch more materials mined, created and transported. My 2001 van was made for a plumbing company and I re-purposed it.
      3) Finally, I have to wonder how much one of those homes will cost compared to my $3000 dollar van or my friends $10,000 in an older Class C, older economy car and new engine.

      In the long run it is part of the solution. But the time for solutions that take decades to start to take affect is over, we need cheap easy solutions NOW, TODAY! Vandwelling has that at an affordable price anyone can afford.

  10. hotrod says:

    Liberalism is a mental disorder.

  11. Cathy P. says:

    Paying for the zero energy house is going to be the issue. Many people can’t afford the most basic house now. I don’t find RVs that uncomfortable or limiting, even the smaller ones. We did 2 years in a 24′ TT, 3 adults and a 75 LB dog. We were comfortable. We had SO much free time and were almost always outside or propped up with a big pillow on the dinette or bed. Everyone defines “comfort” differently. I just can’t imagine we would have saved more living in a 2,000 sq ft house.

    It seems to me that “re-purposing” just about everything has got to be where the savings of both money and environment will really come and be practical.

    • Bob Bob says:

      I totally agree Cathy, those zero energy homes are very expensive and an RV can be remarkably comfortable. I also agree about re-purposing, it’s a win-win for everybody in every way.

  12. JimS says:

    Bob, I’m a little surprised that you haven’t mentioned Michael Reynolds, of Earthship fame. I watched a documentary about him several years ago which detailed the difficulties he encountered with New Mexico building codes. He pioneered the sustainable architecture seen in the homes one sees as they travel north out of Taos, NM.

    Perhaps I misunderstand, but just because one is not willing to live in an RV or van, doesn’t mean they can’t make meaningful contributions. I upgraded my furnace a few years ago from a circa 1960’s boiler to a modulating unit, and it’s made a huge difference in my heating bill.

    I think the biggest electricity hog in most homes is the refrigerator. They’ve become behemoths, and symbolic of excess. Stuffed with food and more food and leftovers waiting to be thrown out. Mine’s bigger than it needs to be and accounts for probably 80% of my power bill. Unfortunately, if you want to sell your house (to embark on that RV journey, for example), you need a big shiny fridge with big doors.

    Of course, apologies if I missed a point or previous post.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Jim, I’m sorry if I implied that living in a van is the ONLY way to live green, I only intended to point out it is much greener than the average home–which it is. My main purposes was to dispel the myth that it was bad for the environment, when it is just the opposite.

      The truth is we can talk about exceptions, but that’s just what they are, a tiny percentage of homes that aren’t terrible for the environment even while the vast, huge majority are. As you pointed out, either governments make building alternative homes very difficult or they are prohibitively expensive for the majority of people.

      I helped a friend blow in a foot of cellulose insulation in her 50s home and what a difference that made in her heating bills!! She also upgraded from fuel oil to a modern propane furnace and that helped again. But the fact is I’m still twice as green as she is and she spent more on those two upgrades than I did on my trailer, van and solar.

      Living in a van isn’t the only way to live green, it’s just the best and by far the cheapest way.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Jim, a really big part of this is that to be a successful blogger, you have to write about something you love and have an intense passion for. If you don’t, it will show up in your writing and people will see it and not keep coming back. I deeply and intensely love the mobile life! But I totally hate living in a house! If I tried to write about houses, or living a normal life it would be dishonest and the blog would fail.

      And so sometimes my disdain for houses and the “normal” come through and people get upset with me. But I just can’t understand that, why would you come to blog about radical nomad living and expect blog posts proclaiming the virtues of living in houses and working normal jobs? I don’t believe that, so why would I write about it?

      I do have a plan for my old age, but it will be renting a cat and digging out a long trench in the AZ desert and burying an old school bus and turning it into my home–but it will still be on wheels, even if it’s blocked up!!

      I write about what I love, and I don’t love houses so I don’t write about them.

  13. Rick says:

    Like you Bob I have a passion for living in a house with wheels under it – both an RV and a tiny house. I am also equally passionate and excited about the changes coming in the energy, gas and oil and auto sectors. Will those changes happen in time for you and I to see them in our lifetime or to avert the catastrophe you have so eloquently described? I don’t know! But articles Ike the one at the link below leave me wondering some of the following-
    Renewable Use by Top Emmiters Will Double by 2030
    Will I be able to buy parts for my internal combustion engine in my RV in 5 years? A little Googling will show you electric vehicles are coming way faster than most think. So how long before its easier to find a charging station than a gas station? No really think about that – what would it be like to be driving a gas/diesel powered vehicle and having to search for a few of the gas stations still open? And don’t worry about having to park your van/bus – the self driving vehicles are already here! Yep I know there are not electric self driving vans or RVs for sale today but I do believe I will ride in one in the next 5 – 10 years.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Rick, there is no doubt about it, the world is changing really fast and as the problems from climate change become more severe things will change faster.

      No telling what the future may bring, but My guess is we won’t see the changes as fast as you think–but only time will tell.

  14. Mike Taylor says:

    Bob, I just saw your video on lawbreaking and environment. I have been of the same mine set for many years about the government making you break the law just to live freely as you choose. If I live a life of freedom and do not harm others then why do they make laws against my way I always ask. There is only one answer that fits, “control” they want to control everything even what isn’t theirs to control. You have made me rethink a couple points to your argument on environmental subjects and I thank you for that. I like to keep a open mine to all sides for I believe somewhere in th middle we all should meet. 👍

  15. Corky says:

    Bob. I enjoy your philosophy and agree with it, mostly.
    There are very suppressed technologies like Tesla’s “free energy” or “zero-point energy, which means we have not needed gas, oil, nuclear, or coal since the early 1900’s.
    A machine fitting on a table would power your whole block.

    People have been killed to keep this quiet, but is becoming more known.
    We also have water to power cars, perfected by Stan Meyers, but then he was poisoned. He did it all in his dune buggy.
    Also there is fusion and other basic methods, all clean.

    There are also suppressed things that can rapidly heal the
    environment, as soon as the evil people are removed.

    See videos of James Gilliland for the basics of the big picture.

    The above is all true, even if you are not aware of it.
    Use YouTube for research, as they cover everything.
    Whistleblowers have leaked more than you’d believe.
    Truth is stranger than fiction.

    I hope to be in an RV sooner rather than later.

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