A sustainable house is a property that demonstrates a mindful approach towards energy efficiency and the household's environmental impact.
Designing a sustainable home means keeping the goal of being environmentally responsible at the forefront of all your decisions, whether you're building a house from scratch or retrofitting an older property to improve it's energy efficiency.
Usually sustainable homes have lower utilities costs that the average property, and generally promote a healthier lifestyle for the people who live there - whilst making a contribution to the wider environment too.
An energy performance certificate (EPC) can give you a sense of how sustainable a property is. It will show how well insulated the building is, and what type of energy it uses. However, it will not give you the whole picture.
To really understand how sustainable a household is, you'll also have to look closely at:
The commonly used appliances: how much water and energy do they use? how efficient is this usage?
The utilities (water, electricity, gas) providers: how do they source their electricity - renewable, fossil fuel, nuclear?
Commuting time and options: are you close enough to walk to the shops, or do you have to drive?
The size and layout of the property: larger, spread out properties use more energy to heat
How the property is decorated: have sustainable, natural, or recycled materials been considered?
Want to check out your EPC rating? Just pop in your address into our free EPC checker here.
Having a sustainable home not only helps to protect the environment, and contributes to a brighter future for further generations, it'll also leave you better off financially. Thoughtful investments into sustainable changes can lower your energy bills, and mean you ultimately pay less in home maintenance too.
If you're unsure where to start with your eco friendly home upgrades, consider the following options. Each of these options will improve your home's environmental credentials:
Talk to any housing sustainability expert, and the first energy efficiency modification they'll probably suggest is improving your home's insulation.
The first places to tackle are your loft and walls. These are the areas you're going to be losing the most heat, so making sure they're well insulated will dramatically reduce the amount of energy you'll have to use to keep your home warm.
Thick curtains over windows and doors can also help keep your house well insulated too.
Windows also play a large role in how insulated your house is. Glass is a pretty bad insulator, so windows provide a lot of opportunity for heat to be lost quickly.
Double or triple glazed windows, which layer glass with gas cavities, will make your home more energy efficient. These thicker glazed windows will reduce heat loss when it's cold, and help capture natural heat and light from the sun when it's warm.
Another way properties can lose heat is through draughts. Blocking gaps around window frames and doors can reduce the amount of heat loss, and therefore decrease the amount of energy you need to use for heating. Foam strips, door bristles, or other gap fillers can all be bought fairly cheaply at most hardware stores. The more air tight you can make your property, the more energy efficient it will be.
You could also take more long term action, such as replacing the doors and windows to better fitting alternatives. Though this will cost significantly more.
While insulation, draught proofing, and energy efficient windows will ensure you don't lose as much heat, creating a sustainable, eco-friendly house doesn't stop there.
You may decide you'd also like to explore renewable energy utilities options. These range from installing solar panels, or wind turbines, to working with a utilities company with green credentials.
If you're thinking about installing solar panels or wind turbines, think carefully about whether they are actually suitable for your building. For example, solar panels will be most effective on south facing roofs in naturally sunny areas, but are a less useful addition in more northern, naturally darker areas.
Once you've made the fundamental structure of your property as sustainable as possible, there are some smaller scale changes you could consider making.
You may decide to forgo the bigger changes, and just focus on these more manageable changes, which will still give a big boost to your home's sustainability credentials.
Firstly: replacing appliances that aren't energy efficient. Most white goods - like dishwashers, fridges, and washing machines - will come with a large sticker on the front detailing how energy efficient it is. Those rated 'green' or 'A' on the scale are the most efficient. Those in the 'red' category are the least efficient.
Sometimes it's worth spending slightly more for a more efficient appliance. Replacing any old or energy intensive appliances will decrease your energy consumption (and lower your bills too).
Secondly: maintaining your appliances. Well-maintained appliances will function more efficiently, using less energy to function, and last longer too. For example, your fridge will perform better if you keep the coils on the back clean. And, your dryer will work much better if you keep the lint tray empty.
Replacing old lightbulbs with energy efficient LEDs is one of the easiest ways to reduce your household energy consumption - they last longer too!
Some smart technology can be used to improve the sustainability of your home. For example, smart thermostats can allow you to only use the energy you actually need to heat your home. There are also increasingly innovative versions of this sort of tech, which include features such as home occupancy detectors. These automatically adjust the temperature of your home depending on whether there's actually someone in the room or not.
More basic smart tech includes things like smart energy meters. These allow you to see exactly how much energy you're using at any particular time, and allow you to make changes accordingly. This tech is all about keeping you informed so you can be mindful with your lifestyle choices.
When it comes to decorating and furnishing, be mindful with your choices. Some commonly used decorating materials place a large toll on the climate through the way they are manufactured, processed, and transported.
For example, certain woods are much more sustainable than others, because they are faster growing or come from species that are still plentiful. And, some paints contain a variety of artificial chemicals that can be damaging to the environment.
Consider whether you can source sustainable versions of the decor items you're after, or perhaps purchase things second hand.
Working with local suppliers is great way to be more sustainable too.
Sustainability doesn't stop at the inside of your home, thinking carefully about how you garden and interact with the land around your home can also have a huge impact on your environmental credentials.
Consider making environmentally friendly changes to the way you garden. For example, rainwater harvesting. Collecting rainwater to water your plants and lawn is much more environmentally friendly than using tap water.
Think carefully about the types of soil and fertiliser you choose, to limit environmental damage. For example, peat free compost is a more sustainable and eco friendly alternative to peat rich soils. You could even try composting your kitchen waste for an even more environmentally friendly option.
EPCs are valid for 10 years, and you can use the one purchased by the previous owner.
So, you may have an EPC and not know it!
When it comes to living sustainably, it can be a hard decision between the stress of renovations to improve the environmental credentials of your current house, and the upheaval of moving to (or building a) new home. Like with most major decisions, there are pros and cons to both avenues.
Pros to moving to an eco-friendly house
Cons to moving house
Pros to retrofitting your current house
Cons to retrofitting
Pros to self-build sustainable house
Cons of the self-build approach
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