Choosing eco-friendly in our homes can make a world of difference
While we’re looking outward at deforestation, vehicular carbon emissions and the plastic waste in our oceans, we also need to look inward to our lifestyles and homes, recognising that change starts with us. Environmentally friendly houses can appear expensive or difficult to create, particularly in an existing home, but there are many practical changes you can implement now. Why wait for change when it can start today?
Ultimately, the choice is yours. It’s true that choosing environmentally friendly designs and materials can take careful planning and involve more short-term costs, but on the flip side, the long-term benefits to your energy bill, the environment and a healthier space often outweigh the negatives. An eco-friendly space is better for you and more comfortable to live in. The three main elements to consider are light, thermal management and air quality, and improving these will make your space more sustainable and pleasant to live in.
You too can walk on sunshine through strategically designed rooms. East-facing windows can maximise natural light in the morning, keeping your room warm and the lights off. Designing for maximum natural light minimises the need for artificial light and keeps the power bill down.
Of course, while sunlight is great for daytime, even a full moon wouldn’t be sufficient to light your space at night. Overhead ceiling lights, task lighting and even those inside cupboards increase visibility and therefore accessibility, allowing you to utilise your space well. Choose efficient LED or CFL bulbs for abundant light without the price tag.
High-energy-use systems such as air conditioning and central heating can significantly impact how green your home is. As we consider thermal management, we need to examine how the space will function in the heat of summer and the cool of winter. Our summer sun is fierce, with heat waves periodically rolling across the country. Shading your north- and west-facing windows will limit the effect of the sun during the hottest season, while still allowing light in during the cooler months.
Choosing insulation like double-glazed windows will also significantly reduce air conditioner usage, creating a more naturally comfortable home. Double glazing provides that extra layer between the outdoor heat and indoor ambience, the gap of air between the two glass panels trapping the warmed air and preventing the transfer of heat inside. Similarly, the winter chill is less effective in sapping the warmth from your room through this insulation. Clever window design allows your house to maintain a more stable temperature, reducing or at times eradicating the need for air conditioning.
When it comes to air quality, take a careful look at the paint, benchtops, furniture and cleaning products used in your space. Many common household products are known to release the carbon-based VOCs. While not all VOCs are harmful, synthetic products tend to house more harmful VOCs that evaporate at room temperature and have been linked to headaches, fatigue, decreased productivity and respiratory irritation. Look for paints and materials described as low-VOC or no-VOC for a natural and healthy indoor air quality.
Image: Design by Ben Callery Architects
Originally published in Kitchens & Bathrooms Quarterly 26.1