From making your home more energy efficient, to eco furniture and natural paints, Fiona McKenzie Johnston shares her top tips for creating a more eco-friendly home.
You might have built your house from scratch, and, in doing so, installed the best in efficient insulation and geo-thermal heating, as well as solar panels on the roof and a wind turbine in the garden, and are right now living in such an energy efficient manner that you regularly send your excess to the national grid – which is the dream.
Or, more probably, looking at the negligible (though growing) number of such utopian builds in Europe, you are living in a period property, and are trying to make the best of what you have got. Because unless your house is actually falling down around you, it’s unnecessarily costly – and not environmentally sound – to start again. So here are some suggestions of how to lessen the environmental impact of your interior, whatever age and style that interior might be:
Even an Old House Can Become More Energy Efficient
Depending on where you live, chances are you spend half the year trying to make your house either significantly warmer, or significantly cooler. Whichever it is, good insulation will help with consistency of temperature, and your gas bill. A roof can be insulated at any time – Inhabitat.com has helpfully listed the best eco-friendly materials. And it might not be too late for the exterior walls: if your house was built between 1920 and 2000 it is likely to have cavity walls (two layers of walls – designed to prevent damp) that might not yet have been filled. The good news is that they can be, in a matter of hours, with the help of a professional. Which? Trusted Traders is a helpful resource – you’re looking for an insulation installer who is a member of the National Insulation Association (NIA), the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) or the British Board of Agrément (BBA). Solar films for windows are another idea – some reflect heat back inside, while others prevent UV rays, and heat, entering. And don’t forget the draft-excluding wonders of lined, floor to ceiling curtains, and the possibility of wearing more – or fewer – clothes.
Your electric bill can be reduced too, chiefly by painting rooms in light, bright colours, which maximise daylight and thus minimise the need for artificial lights – though if you really are hankering for darker walls, remember a gloss finish is light-reflecting. Obvious as it sounds, it also helps to keep windows uncovered during the day, or at least to use blinds that block as little of the incoming light as possible.
Finally, when replacing appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and tumble driers, look carefully at the energy efficient ratings – and consider swapping that last for a Pulleymaid. I did it four years ago, and even in a gardenless, central London flat with two primary school-aged children, have not looked back. (Although it does require some planning: turning on the heating/using a hair dryer to emergency dry a PE kit somewhat nullifies the intention.)
Practice Sustainable Shopping
Which mainly means stop buying things, and, in doing so, stop adding to landfill. Otherwise, consider antique and vintage, which is a sustainable means of shopping, and, bonus, excellent when it comes to expressing your individual style: you’re unlikely to find the identical lamp to the one you just bought in your friend’s house. As well as local antique shops and markets, salvage yards (great for baths, fireplaces and radiators) and vintage stores, there’s a plethora of online sites: Ebay and Freecycle are well known, then there’s Selency, 1st Dibs, and Vinterior. And remember what you buy doesn’t need to be in perfect condition, for wood can be stripped and re-varnished, chairs and sofas can be reupholstered and recovered, and curtains and blinds can be cut down. The House & Garden Directory is your friend in all of this.
Of course, there are going to be times when you want to buy something that is new (bedding, for instance.) Just remember it is better to invest more in something that you love and that you know has been created out of high-quality materials by people paid a fair wage and working in fair conditions than it is to buy something that is cheaper and potentially harms the people making it and the planet…
Decrease the Presence of Plastic
We don’t all have a vegetable patch from which to source our unwrapped carrots – but there are other ways to cut down on the amount of plastic you bring into your house: buying directly from a greengrocer, farmer or a baker, finding a ‘re-fill’ shop near you, or going to Waitrose, who are trialling plastic-free fruit and veg aisles. This applies to other products, too – even beauty, where certain brands are working on reducing or even negating their use of plastic packaging. It’s all opportunity to use your purchase power as a vote.
It’s also worth looking around your kitchen, bathroom, and utility room, and noticing the plastic spatulas, bowls and other items that you have. Don’t get rid of them – but when you have used them to the point that they can be used no more, look for wooden or ceramic alternatives.
Finally, have you thought about the plastic in paint? Conventional paints include a host of hazards in varying amounts, from formaldehyde to heavy metals and what are known as volatile organic compounds (translation: not great), which are emitted for up to five years after the paint has dried. However, plastic-free eco-paint exists, can be used anywhere and everywhere, and is actually better for old houses as it’s porous, so allows the walls to ‘breathe.’ The architectural historian Edward Bulmer has developed a particularly attractive range of colours for his Edward Bulmer Natural Paint range.
Increase the Green
Whatever your garden/ vegetable garden/ bee-keeping situation, do not discount inside plants. Patch Plants helpfully match the plants to where you want to put them – whether that’s in direct sunlight or a shadier corner – your local garden centre should be able to do the same. For not only do they look attractive, but houseplants genuinely improve air quality – increasing oxygen levels, reducing the levels of certain pollutants, and even absorbing (some) sound. You can literally turn your home into a sanctuary – fulfilling at least one ideal.
For more interior inspiration, see our guide to our favourite ethical homeware brands you need to know.
If you are looking to invest in new bedding, see our guide to the best ethical bedding.
Wondering which plants will purify your air? See our list here.
Want to learn more about switching to green energy? Here’s everything you need to know.