Eco expert Ian Cleland shares his thoughts on green living and creating a sustainable home.
The home of Wayne Lascelles is built from mud brick, rammed earth, local stone and timbers.
“Green living” are two words that, for many people, bring with them mixed emotions. For those who want to be part of a greater movement to create a better world to live in, it is a positive step they can take to be part of the movement for change. On the other side of the coin, it is an impost to the construction of cheaper developments where developers feel they are being thwarted at every turn in their attempts to keep construction costs to a minimum and to maximise profits.
No matter which side of the coin you are on, “Green Living” is here to stay through the changes in regulations at federal, state and local levels. You could really say this movement started in the 1960s and came to a head with the first 20th century oil crisis and was pushed further along when, at the turn of the 21st century, people were willing to take on board that humans had a major stake in global warming.
On a personal note, my journey into sustainability started the second year after leaving high school in 1973 and the beginning of the oil crisis. I had moved from the country to Sydney and was living in Lindfield, a north shore suburb. Most mornings there was a brown mist permeating every nook and cranny where I lived and on some mornings on the way to work, the mist hugged the ground. In the western suburbs, going toward the Blue Mountains, you could not see the mountains on the majority of mornings. I asked myself what caused this and after some research found out it was for the most part the vehicles we drove using oil-based fuels that caused the smog — which has been known to kill thousands in extreme cases throughout the world. This is what started my journey — I thought there had to be a better way to live that would clean up the air we breathe, the soil we grow our food in and the water we drink.
While it is important for any renovation to become the type of space that suits your lifestyle and style, it’s equally important to consider the environment when creating new buildings or renovations. As consumers, we are educated and understand that we need to bring into our homes elements that will not only provide a comfortable space in which to live but also adapt to provide comfort in all seasons. This can best be achieved by designing, what we refer to, as passive solar or energy-efficient buildings.
Regardless of how much money you have to spend, it is considered good practice to have a budget that you can maintain during the construction process. To create a working budget, you need professionally designed plans and specifications that you can use to price the job. In the design we have to consider the building’s geographic location, both locally and globally, in terms of topography and environment; that is, is it city or country, coastal or inland, temperate or tropical, low or high density? Where are the prevailing breezes coming from in summer and winter; where does the sun rise and set relative to your home; is it a large or small block of land; are there lots of trees or is it open cleared land?
These are some of the elements that should be considered in your design and are part of the process of living green. And if you do not have the knowledge to analyse these elements, you should seek advice and guidance from a professional.
The energy factor
One thing that sits at the core of being green is energy use. How do we use energy in the products and services we consume on a day-to-day basis and when we renovate our homes, what are the energy costs involved in its construction? These energy costs would be the lifecycle costs of the materials and products that make up your renovation.** Depending on how far you are willing to go, it could also include employing tradespeople who live relatively close to you rather from the other side of the city in which you live.
How do we achieve “Green Living” at home? This is a topic that you could write a book about. If you are like me, you’ll know there is so much about being green that requires a conscious effort to do things differently. Without going to the extremes of living in a tent, being green will depend on the degree of your commitment and passion. It is through energy conservation that we are able to save both energy and costs in our home renovations.
With most renovations, the main area where people have problems is in not creating the final design at the documentation stage. They are forever modifying the design during construction with the result being increased costs in money, energy and extended completion dates. Coming up with energy-efficient, passive solar design that uses sustainably sourced material will get you the greenest construction result.
When planning an energy-efficient renovation can all the core construction materials be obtained locally? The further they have to travel to your site or in their manufacture, the less ‘sustainable’ they are. Let us consider the types of materials we use including concrete, masonry (clay or concrete brick and block), timber (solid or composite), steel, ceramic and lining boards (plaster or particle boards). Then there are the less conventional materials such as mud brick, straw bale, rammed earth and a whole range of composite materials that have been around for thousands of years or have been developed in more recent times.
Let us look at how we use materials. Concrete masonry and steel have high energy costs but if these materials are used in building we should adopt what architect Tone Wheeler of Environa Studio (environastudio.com.au) has proposed: Long Life, Loose Fit, Low Impact.
‘Long Life’ suggests that materials will be part of a building that will be around for a couple of hundred years or so. Also any steel product can be reclaimed and recycled.
Timber, or for that matter any plant products, such as hemp, are from a renewable source. They are also a great way of locking up carbon into buildings. Timber from seed to end product takes a minimum of 20 years and for soft wood such as introduced species like radiata pine and native hardwood, 40-plus years. Whereas hemp, depending on where it is grown, can produce two-plus crops a year of 10 tonnes per hectare, which can be made into composite materials, all from the one plant, including the resins that bond the end products together and seed that produces oil for fuel or human consumption. Hemp is a plant with hundreds of uses.
Once you have constructed the core of the structure, then the plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, fit-out of fixtures and fittings follow. Tone suggests that ‘Loose Fit’ is appropriate — that is all components other than the core structure need not be a fixture but able to be removed so that your home can adapt to changes in lifestyle and technology; even to the extent that internal walls can be moved around to adapt spaces to new functions. How often do we move into a home as newlyweds then move again when children arrive because the home is too small and then when the children leave home we downsize again in our retirement? With the costs involved in moving, it may be better to adapt your existing home to suit your lifestyle.
Also outside of your core structure, the other components should be of ‘Low Impact’. This really goes to the core of our society; that is the consumer throwaway society. To be truly green, we should adopt a cradle-to-cradle approach for all products so that everything is recycled back into a new product but not downcycled (a product that is made from new raw materials, for example a plastic product that is then downcycled with a composite of plastics to be a speed bump on a road).
Construction: The Tone Wheeler 3 Ls to Green Living
• Long Life
• Loose Fit
• Low Impact
Being green is being smart with resources that are of limited supply. Can you imagine the possibilities of the industries that would be created to supply the building industry if everything was recycled?
Here we have only looked at inside the home; however, we can apply the same concept to our outdoor living spaces and gardens. Even if you have a small space, you can create external environments that add to the comfort inside your home. Also in communal living situations such as apartments and other high-density living, we can develop communities that work together to create green living that is vibrant and exciting.
**treasury.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/5099/life_cycle_costings.pdf and the embodied energy yourhome.gov.au/technical/fs52.html
For more information visit livinggreener.gov.au or aboutpeople.com.au
By Ian Cleland
From Renovate magazine Vol. 9 No. 3