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A practical guide to greening your home
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
A practical guide to greening your home
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
A practical guide to greening your home
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
27 October 2016

A practical guide to greening your home

Whether you own a grand old house—or live month to month in a rental—there are lots of things you can do to make your home greener.

This blog post is sponsored by act

What does this mean?

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Image source: Denisbin/Flickr

This blog post is sponsored by act

What does this mean?

When drooling over the latest sustainable build on Grand Designs, it’s easy to feel that a green home is a luxury few can afford. But whether you own a grand old house—or live month to month in a rental—there are lots of actions you can take, big and small, to make your home greener and more liveable. (And don’t worry, it doesn’t involve moving to Norway and making a roof out of grass, though that could be nice.)

Getting started: make a list and check it twice

Regardless of the scale of change, it pays to start by asking yourself some key questions:

  • How do you use your current space?
  • What do you love about it?
  • What drives you crazy?
  • What are your must-haves for the updated space?
  • Are there things you’re happy to compromise on?
  • How far will your budget stretch?

Tip: Take advantage of the fact that many sustainable architects and other relevant design experts provide free initial consultations.

Passive design: Don’t just do something, sit there

One of the most powerful concepts in sustainable design isn’t packing your home full of fancy gadgets—it’s taking full advantage of your local climate. Passive design was first outlined in 1988 and achieves more comfort with less energy. It all comes down to being mindful of seven areas:

  • Orientation: where your home is situated in terms of sunlight and wind
  • Local climate: For example, planning with Australia’s eight main climate zones in mind
  • Thermal mass: the ability of a material to absorb and store heat energy
  • Ventilation: ensuring excellent air-flow and quality for health and comfort
  • Insulation: a barrier to heat flow to keep you warm in winter and cool in summer
  • Shading: improves comfort and saves energy when used strategically
  • Glazing: controlling the heat energy lost or gained through glazed windows and doors

According to the Department of the Environment and Energy, good passive design can effectively “lock in” thermal comfort, lower heating and cooling bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the lifespan of your home.

Tip: Air leakage accounts for 15-25 percent of heat loss in winter and makes running an air conditioner substantially less efficient. Sealing your home against air leaks is one of the simplest upgrades you can undertake to increase your comfort while reducing energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

Choosing materials: show them what you’re made of

There’s a range of old and new building materials that are touted as being environmentally friendly. Not everyone has the desire or ability to build their home using rammed earth, mudbrick, hempcrete, straw bale or mushroom fibre. Fortunately, responsibly-sourced wood is making a comeback.

David Rowlinson, Make It Wood  Manager at Planet Ark, says that sustainably-sourced wood stores carbon longer and consumes much less energy compared with other building materials such as brick, concrete and steel. “It is strong, versatile, fast to construct, durable and has high insulation properties,” he says. Upshot: lower energy bills and an appealing look and feel.

Tip: The important thing to remember is that not all wood is good. Look for wood that has either been recycled or is certified sustainable. Take note if a timber supplier insists that their materials are “certified legal”—it’s not the same as being “certified sustainable”. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is the only forest label supported by environmental groups such as WWF, Greenpeace, ACF and Planet Ark.

Shop smart: it’s what’s inside that counts

Whether you’re building, renovating or just eager to give your bedroom a spruce up, there are fantastic sustainable options for everything from paint and lighting to flooring and furniture. The trick is knowing how to find them!

Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) runs Australia’s only independent, not-for-profit, multi-sector, eco-labelling program. You can search their database for a range of products that have been rigorously assessed for their environmental, health and social impacts over their entire life cycle.

Tip: Whenever possible, look for trades people in your local area and ask them about their supply chain.

Reducing your footprint: save the planet and your wallet

The watchword here is efficiency. If you’re able to use passive design principles, you’re already way ahead of the curve. Of course, if you’re a renter like me, you can’t really change things like the orientation of your home. Fortunately, we’re not powerless on this journey! According to Sydney Water, just one leaking tap can waste up to 2000 litres a month. Replace washers as soon as your tap begins to leak and you’re already making a difference.

Research conducted by the CSIRO revealed that people who washed their laundry “in cold (versus hot) water, and full (versus partial) loads consumed significantly less electricity, in the order of 40 percent less than the average householder”.

Appliances account for up to 30 percent of household energy use, so choosing energy-efficient appliances is another easy way to reduce your impact and your bills. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s free Light Bulb Saver app identifies the best light bulbs to replace your incandescent and halogen bulbs—and how much you could save by transitioning to LED or CFL.

The electricity sector is the largest source of greenhouse emissions in Australia. With even the most efficiently designed home needing to use some energy, it’s important to make it green. CHOICE, the consumer watchdog, has a comprehensive breakdown of the best green electricity retailers available.

For more, the folks at My Green Australia have curated a list of 13 sustainable actions that renters can take to be environmentally friendly.

Tip: Governments across Australia offer a wide range of rebates and assistance to incentivise sustainable choices.

We chat with the CEO of Greenpeace Aus-Pacific

The perks of sustainable living: more than the sum of its parts

As if reducing your impact on the environment and saving some money wasn’t enough—it’s becoming apparent that creating a sustainable space to live is also good for your physical health and state of mind.

According to Planet Ark’s Rowlinson, “Wood also has positive physiological and psychological benefits that mimic the effect of spending time outside in nature. Research shows that wood has the effect of lowering blood pressure and heart rates, reducing stress and anxiety and increasing positive social interactions.”

Integrating plants into your apartment or cultivating a water-wise garden around your house can make you happier and healthier according to a new report by Planet Ark. The research found that people living in green areas are 40 percent less likely to be overweight or obese!

Tip: Planting local native varieties and other water wise plants will attract wildlife and reduce your use of water. Tools such as Sydney Water’s Plant Selector and the WA Government’s Waterwise Plant Search can help you find plants that suit your garden’s style and climate conditions.

Regardless of your living situation, budget and sustainability goals, there really is something you can do today to transform your house into a greener, happier home.

Further reading suggestions...

Kendall Benton-Collins

Kendall Benton-Collins blogs at Kindness by Design and manages content for Ethical Consumers Australia, including for their Good On You ethical fashion app.

Feature image by Denisbin

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