“Think about installing solar panels and a water tank”. That phrase definitely doesn’t put the ‘living’ in ‘sustainable living’. There are so many more ways to make changes to your home so it will use less energy and save you money. Through those first baby steps of renovating, no matter the job, you are on the right track. Choosing to work with the building you have and recycling materials is the best way to start on the stairway to sustainability.
But this is a big topic to discuss in one post. Let’s not spend the next five minutes reading up on the different types of light fittings you can choose from.
Here, we break it down according to the type of renovation you are doing:
Major works do present the best chance to build sustainably but also present the highest costs. Make sure that when you budget for your renovations, you include the future savings you will make in the running of your house. These will give you a clearer view of why you should explore healthier building options.
Passive design. A good architect will show you designs that focus on sustainable building. This means designing a space that creates its own energy through as many natural processes as possible.
If they start by giving you designs requiring a host of new spaces spread out across the existing property, then be aware. A strong place to start is to extend on a single side of your home, rather than spreading out the work. Designs that make the most of any natural light should use the least amount of materials to achieve the best use of space. You can cut running costs by 30% by taking a passive approach to your design.
North facing areas draw the most light. This means they can make use of the most energy. South facing areas are best for spaces you spend the least amount of time in. With major renovations, cluster areas according to those that you use most often and that need their temperatures controlled together, as well as grouping areas that share plumbing (bathrooms, laundries and kitchens).
Insulation. The best type of insulation is bulk insulation and the best type of bulk insulation is either natural wool or cellulose fibre. Insulating your home can reduce future costs by up to 45%. Factor this into your budget when deciding on the cost of the materials you use.
Ensure you use builders, contractors and project managers who are aware of your plans to build with environmental and economic savings in mind. They should be able to exhibit a history of building sustainably and be able to suggest ways to recycle existing materials.
Think kitchen, bathroom and the odd wall demolition. Minor renovations give you the chance to guard your home from energy waste through fairly small measures.
Re-plumbing the whole house doesn’t quite fit with the term ‘minor renovations’. In this case let’s assume that you keep your plumbing where it is. Are the shells of these spaces in good shape and do they work well within the home? Rather than buying a new kitchen, consider refurbishing the existing shell. This goes for your bathroom and laundry areas too.
There are small changes to your lighting that can have a dramatic influence on your energy consumption. Beyond the actual light fittings, think about how you want to both attract and deter the sun. Shading helps to keep your home cool in the summer. It is also relatively cheap and easy to install roof lights where spaces do not face north.
Some of the most common regrets of renovators are not sealing homes against air leakage, choosing poor lighting options (often related to poor design) and not double-glazing new and existing windows. These are all areas that come under minor work and are fairly simple and cost-efficient to address.
Draught proofing. This may seem a bit Howard Hughes-y but if you are making minor design changes, consider cheap ways to reduce air leakage out of your home. Using full-length curtains attached to pelmets dramatically reduces heating loss.
Consider the environmental impact of all the materials you use in your interior renovations, no matter how small. Companies must compete for the market and a key to their own success is by producing sustainable products. Most paints these days will contain small to no amounts of VOC. These are solvents that enter the atmosphere after you apply them. But you can also look at buying paints that are produced using more natural processes.
Look around you. Everything inside your home can either contribute to sustainable energy use or its design and production can be as natural or sustainable as you want it to be.