Eco-Makeovers: How to Ensure Your Home Improvements Are Sustainable
By Marcus Teague
As the demands of climate change encroach on our everyday lives, there's never been a more important time to create an eco-friendly home. In fact it's law - since 1997 the National Construction Code in Australia has mandated that all houses must meet minimum state energy-efficiency requirements. But how do you upgrade your home in a way that's both sensitive to environmental concerns, yet still hits key style elements?
It helps that there are financial benefits to making your home eco-friendly, from increasing resale value to cutting down on utilities. Here are some tips to consider when improving your home:
Before you start filling the pool and selecting a marble staircase, give some thought to "passive design". Passive design refers to your home's natural ability to foster a consistent climate, without the aid of artificial heating or cooling. Good design can cut down on emissions as well as having the bonus effect of saving you a bunch of money on your energy bills – for example, the government's YourHome website claims air-conditioning accounts for about 40 per cent of energy use in the average Australian home. If big changes aren't on the cards, minor improvements like external blinds, ceiling fans, window glazing, and natural skylights can all add artful touches while helping to keep the cost of your bills down.
The eco-friendly quality of materials doesn't just refer to a finished product, how they're sourced can have enormous environmental impact. A sure-fire way of avoiding wastage is to reuse existing materials. Fancy a new tabletop? Reclaim a solid timber door. Ugly bare wall? Why not repurpose a glass window frame, or use a natural product like bamboo or cork in fittings or frames - introducing a raw look to your space can achieve instant warmth and homely appeal, and avoids excessive harmful additions like non-biodegradable finishes and accessories.
Updating your lighting can be a minor adjustment with major advantages. Use lighter coloured surfaces in the home to both reflect light and create a sense of space. Avoid multiple downlights and fixtures that concentrate a beam, instead use fitting options that diffuse light naturally. Another lifestyle tip is to install and arrange lamps for illuminating tasks, such as reading; watching TV; and working on the computer, instead of extra ceiling lights. Dimmer switches can also add mood, while saving on electricity and preserving the lifespan of globes.
Paint It Safe
Do you just accept headaches and dizziness from paint fumes as part of the refurbishment process? It doesn't have to be that way. Those symptoms derive from solvents in paint, or "volatile organic compounds", aka VOCs. While VOCs are present in the majority of domestic paint, some companies offer paint with low to zero levels of VOCs. As well as not damaging air quality, using low or no VOCs paint means inhabitants don't need to vacate a house while painting – great for DIY. You could also try one of several natural-material based paints, such as plant paint; milk paint; or clay paint, each have their own distinct look.
Thinking Big Starts Small
Many elements of a sustainable and eco-friendly home are decided in the planning process. Factors such as orientation; climate; and materials available, all inform full-scale passive design, but it's never too late to make your home eco-friendly. Small, low-cost improvements you can make to help make any home green. Making an eco-friendly living space isn't just a conscientious decision, but an invitation to upgrade to a whole new lifestyle.