Buildings are responsible for nearly half the UK’s carbon emissions but there are a variety of options for reducing the impact of your home on the environment, ranging in scale and price and whether you are building a new house or want to make changes to your present home. You may wish to make your house more energy or water efficient, to have lower carbon emissions, to be built form more sustainable sources or produce less waste, and of course make it cheaper to run.
To get an idea of how much of an effect you are having on the environment calculate your carbon footprint at: actonco2.direct.gov.uk/index.html
If you are planning on building a new house, by law you will need to get a sustainable homes code rating. If you choose to do nothing to improve the impact, and you achieve zero (this will make your house hard to sell in the future). Or to achieve code 6 you make the house zero carbon, or you may want to get a rating somewhere in the middle.
The areas you will have to consider to achieve a code rating are:
- Energy and C02 emissions- including lighting, white goods (freezer/washing machine etc), provisions for cycle storage and home office.
- Water- indoor and external use.
- Materials- their environmental impact, sourcing and finishes.
- Surface water run-off and flood risk.
- Waste- construction waste, household waste and recycling and compost facilities.
- Pollution from insulating materials and nitrogen oxide.
- Health and well being- day lighting, sound insulation, private space and lifetime homes (adapting your home to new situations).
- Management- home user guides, construction impacts and security.
- Ecology- the protection and enhancement of ecology and the building footprint (floor area).
For more information regarding the sustainable homes code see: www.breeam.org/
There are plenty of affordable changes you can make to our existing house to make it more energy efficient, some may be costly initially but can make considerable savings over time.
A quarter of all UK emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing climate change, are from the energy used in houses. You can reduce your carbon emissions and save over £300 a year by making your house as energy efficient as possible. Some ideas for methods are:
- Insulation- half the heat in a house is lost through the walls and roof, a cheap and effective option is having your loft and cavity/ solid walls insulated, if you have a cellar space you can also insulate under the floor. You may also consider double glazing, insulating your hot water tank and draught proofing around doors and windows.
- Boiler- when you are purchasing a new boiler make sure it is highly energy efficient rated, and have a thermostat, radiator valves and electronic timers fitted to your heating system to make sure no energy is wasted.
Micro generation of energy will reduce your use of fossil fuels and can be initially costly but will save lots in bills in the long run, you can even sell it back, and it will increase your property value. There are many options for generating energy including:
- Solar panels- photovoltaic’s use daylight to produce electricity.
- Solar thermal panels use the sun to heat hot water; you will need 3-4m2 of south-east to south-west facing roof area and an additional hot water cylinder.
- Small scale hydro-electricity (and heat) using water power to generate electricity, this can be powered by even a small stream.
- Small scale wind turbines.
- Ground source heat pumps heat hot water by using the heat from the ground.
- Biomass- burning wood pellets/ chips etc in a stove or boiler.
- Micro- combined heat and power- a simple process of recovering the heat from generating electricity to make hot water.
For more information regarding any of these see:www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generate-your-own-energy
Recycling and Waste management
- Make waste management easy, find out about recycling schemes in your local area and what can be collected from your doorstep. Make a dedicated space for storing recycling and composting in your garden.
- When having construction waste talk to us about what we can do to manage waste and how to recycle, we have recycling schemes in place however there may be ways we can improve at a little extra cost. Also consider carefully quantities of what you want so that nothing is left over.
Environmental Impact, Sourcing materials and Eco-products
- Environmental Impact of materials- When building a new house or making alterations to an existing one you may want to consider the impact on the environment of the materials you choose. Materials are referred to as having embodied energy- this is how much energy they will use over their lifecycle. From how and where the material is extracted from, how far and by what means it is transported, if it will need processing before use, how it will be applied and maintained in use, and its eventual disposal and if it can be recycled.
For a comprehensive guide to materials see The Green Guide published by BREEAM:www.thegreenguide.org.uk/
- Sourcing materials- Materials can also be considered in terms of whether they are responsibly sourced in environmental, economic and social terms. Consider using recycled materials, make sure all timber is from a legal, sustainable source, and consider using local materials, avoiding transportation. Some materials may contain contaminants, some may take years or lengthy processes to break down, or come from sources where people are being exploited. Often materials such as timber are certified if they have met good standards.
- Eco-products- there are a number of construction materials and techniques that have very low embodied energy, some examples would be lambs wool insulation for use in cavity walls, and straw bale construction, or rammed earth construction and non- toxic paint. Often these are traditional, local and labour intensive processes that use locally sourced, natural materials and so can be costly but result in interesting and extremely efficient and responsible buildings. Some easy methods would be to make choices as simple as using brick construction rather than concrete, shingles (wood tiles) instead of concrete tiles or timber construction rather than block work.
Water efficiency, storage and recycling and flooding
The demands on our water supply in the South- East are always increasing, at the same time the risk of flooding is increasing as weather patterns change. Water efficiency looks to reduce the demand for water in the home at the same time as protecting against flooding, and of course reducing your water bill.
- Water efficiency- check for leaks in your plumbing regularly using a competent plumber, and have any leaks fixed quickly. Replace or have mended any appliances that may be broken, when buying a new appliance look carefully at its energy efficiency grade and consider options such as low or dual flush WC’s or flow restrictors.
- Boreholes are wells into the ground that can provide drinking water.
- Grey water recycling systems use water collected from showers, baths and taps for flushing toilets or watering the garden.
- Rainwater collection is one of the simplest methods of recycling water, a water butt is cheap and easy to install and the water can be used for watering the garden, flushing toilets, washing machines and for filling hot tubs and swimming pools. It also reduces surface run off and so protects against flooding.
- Flooding is an increasing threat and as well as collecting rainwater also consider the materials that you lay on the ground, make sure they are permeable so water can soak into the ground rather than running into sewers. If you do not have one already, have a soakaway installed rather than sending rainwater into the sewers, maintain ponds and natural waterways, and have a green roof.
Pollution and Materials that pollute
Buildings are a major source of air pollution, causing depletion to the ozone, acid rain and health issues. Sources within buildings include the materials and processes used to build them, furnishings, paints, air conditioning and smoke from stoves and fireplaces. Two other major influences are the chemicals emitted from insulating materials; and the supply of energy to the home which requires burning fossil fuels. Consider natural ventilation systems, wood burning stoves, locally sourced materials, non- toxic paints and natural insulation materials.
Health Well being, Security and Management
- Sustainable buildings can also improve the well being of human beings.
- Well designed day lighting will reduce the need for artificial means and heating requirements, and provide a pleasant living environment.
- Natural ventilation is more effective and does not release chemicals into the atmosphere.
- Sound insulation reduces complaints and minimizes disruption.
- Outdoor spaces improve people’s quality of life; and allow them privacy and space to dry clothes and grow plants and food.
- Lifetime homes are easily accessible and are easy to adapt to changing situations and future occupants.
- Home user guides ensure that occupants of a house know how to use their house efficiently and make the most of local facilities.
- Homes where people are secure builds a better quality of life and result in sustainable communities.