You’ve got the keep cup, ditched the plastic bags and urged your local café to use metal straws. So far, so green. Now it’s time to take it up a notch.
With more of us becoming eco-aware by the day, our homes are ripe for a sustainable makeover. Whether you’re renovating or just interested in ongoing general maintenance, your choices matter more than ever. Peter Georgiev, of ArchiCentre Australia, says thanks to regulated star ratings, most builders and developers have gone greener, now it's time for consumers to become energy-conscious homeowners. “Architects have been espousing passive solar design and improved thermal performance design features for many decades,” says Peter. “These ideas and techniques are a part of our DNA. Just start a conversation with an architect and the information will flow.”
Here are 10 ways to create an environmentally friendly home
1. Go solar!
Solar power and batteries are perfect for right now, and into the future. Consider solar, “[For] general power requirements and lighting,” says Peter. “Then extending to refrigerated air conditioning and heating. Gone will be the days that air conditioning is considered a luxury.
2. Recycle, reclaim, refresh
Don’t let, “out with the old, in with the new,” be your mantra. You can add character and charm to your new look by salvaging bricks to use as paving or timber beams as a design feature, restoring granite worktops and repurposing old doors. And if you can’t use it, someone else can. You can create a waste plan using Business Recycling website.
There's no end to the ways you can reuse your old stuff. We love how this old surfboard has been styled as a conversation piece.
3. Choose the right lighting
Here’s a lightbulb moment: switching to LED could save you hundreds of dollars in bills. This simple step not only saves your pocket but helps conserve energy too. For information about government incentives go to the Your Energy Savings website.
4. Choose green paint
And no, we’re not talking teal (although it is on trend). The key term to look out for is low VOCs, the nasties known as volatile organic compounds that are found in conventional paints and have been linked to pollution and health issues. Bauwerk make a great ultra-low VOC undercoat, while Volvox make sustainable clay paint that is totally odourless - perfect if you or someone in your family suffer from allergies or asthma.
5. Become more insular
Peter urges, where possible, adding bulk insulation; seal around windows; examine double glazed window systems – the aluminum domestic types are not very effective so consider timber frames. The better your insulation, the less you’ll rely on power to heat and cool your home, meaning you conserve energy and save on your utility bills.
6. Choose materials wisely
Choosing materials wisely can have a huge impact on the ongoing sustainability of your home. Databases like Ecospecifier offer a wealth of independent information about products in an easy-to-use format, with criteria ranging from biodiversity and conservation to resource depletion.
Clerestory (pronounced "clear story") windows like the ones pictured above improve solar flow in your interiors, helping boost light and wamrth so you rely less on power for climate control.
7. Design with direction in mind
At the design stage, aim to incorporate passive solar-siting principles that take advantage of natural heating and cooling as much as you can. Look to include north and east-facing windows and shade devices like eaves, pergolas and deciduous plant screens to increase the liveability of your outdoor space. If your backyard is south-facing, consider including windows up high, where the wall meets the ceiling (known as clerestory windows) to add light and warmth to living spaces at the rear of your home. Passive solar-siting will again help reduce energy consumption.
8. Air quality
Air quality is another important consideration to ensure your house is a healthy, happy place for your family. Tackle any existing issues that could give rise to biological contaminants (mould, fungus, dust mites). Ceiling cavities in old houses can be a hotbed for this kind of stuff so paying someone to professionally vacuum your roof/attic is well worth the money. Remember combustion products like heaters, stoves, and fires also affect air quality. Minimise the need for these by insulating thoroughly and incorporating solar-siting design principles. VOCs found in paints, flooring, furniture, varnishes, and sealants can also affect air quality too, so do your research into what materials you're using before you start rather than trying to minimise harm after the fact.
9. Be water aware
With water bills going through the roof, there are both environmental and economic reasons to cut down on water usage. Water-saving showerheads (check your tank has a sufficient flowrate); flow restrictors and on/off levers are quick and easy fixes that can help you save in the long run. If you're keen to do more, you can try a Quench recycling shower which re-circulates four litres of water for as long as you're under the water.
10. Donate don’t ditch
Rather than add to our growing landfill sites, why not pay it forward rather than throw it out. Most neighbourhoods have Facebook communities where you can offer items free to a good home, or sites like Gumtree work, too. The Salvation Army will accept many household goods – just check what’s on the “no” list before you organise your donation.