How To Make Your Home More Sustainable
Environmental awareness and sustainability have never been more of a priority for individuals, communities and businesses alike. All industries are increasingly looking at reducing waste and the use of virgin materials, and that includes those working in the property sector. Considered interior design can help conserve energy, reduce waste and pollution and help create more homes that are better for the planet, the economy and our wellbeing.
We already know that it’s good to recycle, reduce our use of plastic and ‘non-virgin’ materials, save energy and reduce our CO2 emissions. But what practical steps can we take inside the home to make our properties more sustainable?
Whether it’s the use of sustainable materials, low energy lighting schemes, design longevity or installing smart devices to reduce waste, there are a world of options to consider. Your interior designer should acknowledge the provenance of products and materials being used, as well as how they’re made, and therefore their durability and impact on the environment.
Here, we look at some of the latest stats and innovations around water consumption, lighting, and home automation that can make huge differences, helping you measure and reduce your home’s carbon footprint.
Programmable smart home technologies such as occupancy sensors, smart thermostats (such as Nest) and window shading can help dramatically improve our homes’ sustainability.
Studies have found that home automation can reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 13%.
As homes become more efficient, we’re approaching true “net-zero” dwellings — buildings that produce as much energy as they use. With advances in solar technology and automated energy management, homes can either pull from or feed to local energy grids as needed.
Appliances make up 40% of household electricity consumption, therefore the potential savings generated using smart appliances can be significant both for individuals and the environment. Smart tech allows us to monitor energy consumption more efficiently than ever and even learn to adopt habits to ensure that energy consumption remains low.
Nearly every room in the home can benefit from modern technology that has the means to reduce the carbon footprint of our homes and make them more efficient.
Tas Kyriacou, Director of IDS Lifestyle Technology, who specialise in home automation, says: “The whole premise of home automation products is to help conserve energy, integrate the use of renewable energy sources, paving the way for faster and more accurate appliance repairs, and reduce waste.”
For example, The Energy Savings Trust suggests that homeowners can save up to 320kg of carbon dioxide a year by installing and correctly using smart home temperature controls.
Reduce, reuse, recycle is a well-known approach when it comes to clothing or packaging, but it can seem more challenging when it comes to our tech. The UN predicts that in 2021 alone, we’ll create 52.2 million metric tons of e-waste, making it one of the fastest-growing streams of waste.
One helpful tip is to check the manufacturer's website for guidance or advice on the disposal of end-of-life equipment. As a general rule, devices shouldn’t be disposed of with general household waste and proper disposal will help prevent potential negative effects on the environment.
There’s a huge amount of tech that can be reused or recycled. You can donate many devices to schemes such as Weeecharity and Three’s Reconnected scheme, where they recycle, refurbish and resell or donate devices to those in need. For your old handsets, laptops and Kindles, there are also plenty of trade-in schemes out there through Apple, Amazon, Sony. It’s also worth thinking long-term about your tech - what devices are going to last? Is there a piece of tech that can serve multiple functions, helping you to reduce tech disposal in the future?
For other home technology such as security systems and audiovisual products that can no longer be updated, the equipment can be wiped, reset and removed responsibly. Seek advice from specialists in home automation, AV, data infrastructure and security systems to ensure the sustainability of the products used in your homes.
IDS Director, Tas Kyriacou, says:
“Where we can, we upcycle to ensure products can be utilised where possible, donating proceeds to organisations who help create awareness for a circular economy. If equipment is no longer serviceable, then we’ve partnered with innovative recycling company LITTA. They recycle 93% of the goods they collect. On-site contractors can snap a picture of the old equipment and packaging that needs disposing of and upload it to the LITTA app to arrange collections within the day, who will professionally recycle.”
Energy consumption of buildings depends on the amount of sunlight reaching the room. Maximising daylight in lighting schemes reduces the reliance on artificial light, and lighting controls can help put the right light in the right place at the right time. Switching or dimming lights in response to presence detection and daylight levels, for instance, can save between 20% and 60% of lighting energy.
Lucy Martin, founder of lighting design and consulting business LightFantastic, says:
“As we use more lighting during the day than we do in the evening it makes sense to use the structural design stage of a project to harvest as many natural daylight opportunities as possible but you should also plan to use several circuits of lighting in a single space. This allows you to juggle and layer light combinations to suit different times of day as well as seasonal variations. Preset scenes on a control system make this easy to do. A control system can also allow the lighting to adjust automatically depending on the amount of daylight available to save more energy. PIR's (electronic sensors) can also be useful if you have a house full of kids who never turn their lights off!”
Consider energy-efficient window frames as well as treatments like drapes and shades. Automated lighting and shading systems translate into year-round savings on electrical, heating, and cooling costs. Up to 50% of a home’s energy is lost through windows, which adds 25% to heating and 75% to air conditioning bills.
Using shades and drapes to provide insulation and manage solar heat gain – allowing more warmth from the sun when you want it or blocking it out when you don’t.
Tas Kyriacou explains: “Waiting for a room to get too hot or cold drives up energy use needlessly; automated shades eliminate waste by raising or lowering based on time of day, room temperature, light sensor readings, occupancy, or season.”
Many consumers aren’t aware of the volume of water used throughout their home and in the bathroom in particular, which means our water consumption is on the increase.
By designing our bathrooms to be more sustainable, we can considerably reduce energy and water consumption.
Manufacturers are increasingly working on developing water-saving devices such as low flow taps and showers, as well as dual-flush toilets, which can be very effective.
Another innovative and effective way to save water is by introducing aerators to taps and showerheads. Luxury bathroom suppliers West One Bathrooms explain:
“It doesn’t compromise water pressure, it simply fills the water with little air bubbles by behaving like a sieve, sorting the water into separate streams and mixing it with air. This results in the same pressure, but at reduced water flow, and they don't require any major work. For instance, older taps flow at a rate of around 15 litres of water per minute, but an aerator can reduce that to as little at 6 litres.”
Another water-saving option is shower sensors, which can learn the temperature that’s just right for individuals, reducing energy consumption. They can also monitor and time water use, therefore conserving water. And remember, as relaxing as baths can be, showers use as little as a third of the water.
Pools, spas, and hot tubs can be automated — and now, leak detection on plumbing can prevent costly damage and water waste. There are devices available that monitor a home’s water pressure, and if an improper drip occurs, those mechanisms can shut off the water main to the house until it can be repaired.
Outside of the bathroom, there are simple things to remember when using your dishwashers and washing machines that can save huge amounts of energy - fill them up, use eco-mode, front loaders use much less energy than top loaders, and use cool settings wherever possible. Did you know that up to 70% of energy used by our washing machines is just from heating the water? So cool your loads down a little!
Getting out into the garden, water butts are a useful way to reuse rainwater and redistribute it into your garden - a 90 litre butt can water an average sized garden for 3-4 days. It’s a simple way to save a little bit of money and avoid having to use household water that’s been expensively treated.
If you’re a keen gardener, mulching and using native plants can really help save on your water costs too.
When you do water, drip irrigation and soaker hoses are more efficient because the water is delivered directly to the root system.