Sustainability and the Home – Top 10 tips, from Clarendon Sustainability Expert, Shaila Divakarla
Being environmentally conscious doesn’t necessarily require making drastic changes to your lifestyle, conducting time consuming tasks or growing your own food. There are lots of smart, painless and practical ways to make a big difference in your home.
1. Small is beautiful
Australians have the world’s largest homes beating traditional champion, the USA. The Australian house has grown to a record high of 214sqm, three times the size of the average British house. NSW has the biggest houses in Australia at 262.9sq m, followed by Queensland 253sq m. A large house, especially with modern open plan designs has a larger power bill to heat and cool the house, uses more resources to build, is expensive to furnish and for most of the time most spaces are not used. Thus the first step to sustainability is to have a smaller home. A small but well designed home focuses on quality, not quantity. It makes the best use of available space and resources without compromising on functional and lifestyle requirements. A large 5 star house may be as efficient as a smaller 5 star home but the total energy used and resulting greenhouse gas emissions from a larger home will be a lot more than the smaller home.
2. Natural heating and cooling through Smart Home design
A smart home/“passive” home uses the free energies of the sun and wind to keep the occupants warm in winter and cool in summer purely by virtue of good design and selection of appropriate materials. This can reduce the need for artificial heating and cooling by air conditioners and heaters. A passive solar house is not only more economical but also healthier as it involves natural processes. Passive design strategies include orienting your home with living areas to north (in most regions in Australia), well positioned windows to allow cross flow ventilation, fans for circulation, well shaded glass and outdoor areas, adequate insulation in ceilings & walls, including thermal mass (e.g. concrete floors and tiles) and improved/upgraded glass and frames.
3. Future proof - live a lifetime in your home
A home designed to adapt easily to changing housing needs of the occupants they get older not only means a longer lasting home thus lower environmental impact but also allows the occupants to continue living in the same home and neighbourhood that they are used to. Currently in NSW 1 in 8 people is above the age of 65 years and this is expected to double by the year 2051. Having living areas and at least one bedroom and toilet on the ground floor and building in reinforcement in walls around walls and showers to allow grab rails to be fitted easily in future without having to rip off walls is a smart thing to do. Wider doors and level access to the entry and to outdoor areas allow barrier free living for the elderly living in, or visitors to, the home.
4. Energy and greenhouse efficient water heating
Water heating contributes to nearly a quarter of the energy used in an average home and is the single largest source of greenhouse emissions from a home. The easiest way of reducing this energy is to take shorter showers and using cold water for the washing machine. The next most affordable thing to do is to install water efficient showerheads and taps. Both these solutions will save not only energy but water also. Choosing an efficient hot water system can save significant running costs as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Consider choosing a gas storage system or even better, a heat pump or solar hot water system.
5. Flick that switch
Standby power can contribute to as much as 10% of your power bills. Standby power is the power used by appliances when are not seemingly running or in use. So turning off appliances does not necessarily mean that power supply to the appliance has been disconnected. Most modern and sophisticated electronic appliances with remote control devices draw continuous power as a default in the sleep or standby modes. Most products spend 60% of their time in standby than actual use thus wasting a lot of energy. So switch off appliances at the power point. To make the task easier, like appliances can be grouped and connected to one power board so that they can all be turned off with a single flick of the switch. Also look out appliances that comply with Energy Star and use 75% less energy in standby mode than standard products. It is also worth checking the Energy Rating Label on appliances for energy efficiency. The higher the star rating, the lesser the energy an appliance consumes when in use compared to a similar sized alternative.
Lighting typically contributes to 7% of energy bills of a home but in some homes can be higher. Switch off unnecessary lights, including fluorescent lights, especially when leaving a room for more than 10 minutes. Alternatively install smart light switches and fittings with movement sensors that turn lights on an off automatically. Of course, the cheapest is to ensure natural light that avoids the need for artificial lights. Energy efficient lighting can reduce the power used for lighting significantly. Replacing incandescent and halogen lights with compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and LED lights can cut down energy used for lighting to less than a quarter. Nowadays direct LED replacements for the popular halogen lamps are available. In addition, CFLs and LEDs, in particular, have a very long life (10 to 30 times longer) so they need not be replaced often.
6. Soak up the sun
Drying a load of washing in a typical electric drier can generate more than 3kg of greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention the cost associated with the energy used. The most sensible way of reducing this is to use the free heat and air from the sun and wind to dry the clothes. While the outdoor clothes hoist is fairly popular in Australia, it is handy to have a sheltered outdoor clothes drying area (e.g. an awning or porch/verandah outside the laundry) to use in wet weather, when one is most likely to use the drier. Keeping the laundry well ventilated when the drier is in use and also cleaning the lint filter after each use, assists in improving the efficiency of the drier, thus reducing the energy used. In addition, consider a gas fired or heat pump clothes drier that are cheaper to run.
7. The fridge
The fridge/freezer is the most energy hungry appliance in the home as it operates all the time. Simple things can reduce the energy used by the fridge. First and foremost choose a fridge that is not only energy efficient (higher stars) but also that is the right size for the needs. A big fridge may have the same number of stars as a smaller fridge but will consume more energy in total than the smaller fridge. Leaving adequate space around the fridge (back, sides and top) ensures the warm air coming from the fridge is dissipated easily and the fridge’s surroundings are cooler which in turn means the fridge has to work less hard to keep things cool inside. The less the doors of the fridge and freezer are opened, the less energy the fridge will use.
8. Water conservation
The first step to conserving water is to use less water. Water efficient showerheads, taps and appliances are an easy and affordable way to reduce water use. A 3 star shower head can save around $100 in energy and water a year. Replacing a 12 Litre single flush toilet with a 4 star WELS rated toilet (4.5/3 litres) in an average household could save more than 60,000L a year. Using hot water recirculating pumps or hot water diverters can save the thousands of litres of hot water-gone-cold in the hot water pipes from going down the drain. Using alternative sources of water such as rainwater and recycled greywater can contribute significantly to water savings.
9. Outdoor living
Gardens are a major user of water. Planting a water wise garden using native and drought resistant plants is an easy and practical way to save both water and money. Native plants are better adapted to the regional climate and also provide a good habitat and food source for native birds and other wildlife. Sub surface irrigation that provides water directly to where it is needed, to the roots, conserves water. Mulching also assists in reducing the need for frequent watering and also prevents the growth of weeds.
10. Say no to plastic and paper bags
The fact that plastic bags take hundreds of years to biodegrade is quite well known by people and many are using alternatives. Paper bags are a natural material and biodegradable, however, they do not biodegrade easily in a landfill as oxygen is not available freely within a compacted landfill. The best option is to use reusable bags.