9 Must-Have Features of a Sustainable House
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You might be considering a house move, or perhaps wondering how you might improve the sustainable credentials of your existing home. Either way, if you’re looking for more sustainable house features in 2022, there are some simple fixes you can implement that can reduce your bills and minimise your home’s impact on the planet.
And it's not all expensive solar panels and buying new appliances. Sustainable house features are as much about the way we consume, recycle, and reuse our resources as the materials from which it's built.
In this article, we'll explore 9 must-have features of a sustainable house to help you make better decisions about building, running, and heating your home for minimal environmental impact.
What is a sustainable house?
Sure, it seems like a buzzword, but the term “sustainability” refers to every component of your home that helps save energy and shrink impact on the planet, such as:
- Building materials
- What you decorate with
- The type of appliances you use
- Energy gathering - from solar and wind
- Your energy habits
Sustainable house feature #1: building materials and practices
If you’re building a sustainable home, consider both the materials used to build it AND the operational functions of the property.
Ensure that you:
- Install high-performance insulated windows
- Recycle and reuse your construction waste
- Choose sustainable materials over concrete, such as hempcrete, ashcrete, clay, or straw
- Use sustainable wood substitutes, such as bamboo or cork.
Consider how your building consumes and saves power:
- Follow passive solar design - the walls, floors, and windows are constructed to collect, store, reflect, and distribute warmth and light throughout the building. Passive solar maximises the available solar energy in the winter while rejecting excessive solar heat during the summer.
- Furnish with energy-efficient appliances
- Build a cool roof - reflecting the sun's heat rather than absorbing it into the home, keeping the property cooler during the summer without air con.
Sustainable House Feature #2: decorating materials
You might be surprised to discover that paint contributes to poor air quality and environmental problems such as smog. So, when choosing your wall coverings - including wallpapers - go for products with Low- or No-VOCs.
VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds, and they evaporate as paint dries or as wallpaper degrades over time. VOCs are toxic carcinogens that pollute both the air in your home and outdoors.
Also, consider the biodegradability of carpets and rugs and the responsible sourcing of materials, such as ceramic and marble, for tiles.
Sustainable House Feature #3: insulation
Our windows account for over half of the energy lost by a standard UK home. So, double- or triple-glazing your windows is certainly a must-have sustainable feature for new and existing homes in 2022.
Additionally, improve the insulation capacity of your windows with special coatings and non-conductive frames while maximising the air-tightness of the entire construction.
Of course, it’s not just windows that require insulation. The following are considered sustainable insulations for walls, floors, and lofts:
- Post-consumer denim
- Cellulose spray, made from recycled paper, such as newspapers
- Sheep’s wool
Sustainable House Feature #4: Heating
The world is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, and fuel prices have been one of the principal drivers of inflation. With the unpredictable price of natural gas, heating the home has become incredibly costly, and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
So, it's probably time to consider more sustainable ways to heat your home. While many are turning back to wood-burning stoves rather than running the gas- or electric heating, this is having a potential negative impact on air quality and greenhouse emissions.
While new wood-burning stoves are built to Ecodesign 2022 standards, most wood-burning stoves currently in operation within the UK aren’t particularly environmentally friendly.
Bioethanol fuel, on the other hand, burns cleanly. This means that it doesn't produce soot, ash, or any of the carcinogens emitted from a real fire. Since it burns cleanly, it's possible to install a bioethanol fireplace in any living room without a chimney or flue.
Bioethanol is considered carbon neutral because the only emissions produced from combustion are water vapour and carbon dioxide, which is absorbed by nearby living plant life.
Sustainable House Feature #5: Lighting
LED technology has come a long way and now offers low-cost, bright lighting for our homes. This makes LEDs an affordable alternative to traditional filament light bulbs.
Of course, LED bulbs are more expensive to buy than their traditional incandescent filament alternatives, but LEDs last much longer.
An incandescent light bulb is expected to provide 1000 hours of use, while an LED provides 30,000 hours of lighting.
Filling your home with natural light is always better than electric lighting. So, consider investing in curtains and blinds that open fully to monopolise the sun’s free illumination and heat.
Curtains and blinds complement your home's insulation by reflecting back solar energy in hot weather and minimising drafts while cold.
Sustainable House Feature #6: Your appliances
Modern appliances are generally more energy-efficient than older models - especially devices that are always on, such as refrigerators.
The following appliances consume the most energy to run, so look for A+++-rated models:
- Ovens and stoves
- Air con units
- Tumble dryers
- Water heaters
- Electric car charging stations
A+++-rated appliances are often more expensive to purchase, but think of your home appliances as having two prices:
The cost of purchase + The cost of operation
Sure, the outlay may be higher for A+++ appliances, but the running costs will be much lower.
For example, according to ThisIsMoney.co.uk, you could save £113 a year by switching from a C-rated freezer to an A+++-rated one. They calculate that you recoup the higher price of purchase within 5 years; with an appliance that should last several decades.
An additional sustainable tip that we can all apply is to clean collected dust and grime from the coils at the back of your refrigerator - it helps the appliance draw less power to operate.
Sustainable House Feature #7: Plumbing
There’s more to environmentally sustainable house features than just materials and energy conservation.
Climate change could significantly threaten our future water supply and is predicted to cause more extreme flooding and drought as early as 2025. This means that the way we use and save water is a sustainability essential.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average UK citizen uses around 142 litres of water daily. But much of that water could be reused as "grey water" with a sustainable plumbing system.
Grey water has been gently used as a byproduct of washing up, showering, bathing, and home laundry. Although it contains some contamination from soaps, grease, skin cells, hair, and bacteria, grey water is considered safe for watering your garden, cleaning your car, cleaning your windows, etc. Using grey water can save as much as 40% of your everyday water usage.
However if you’re going to use a sustainable plumbing system, it’s important to use environmentally friendly and biodegradable detergents and cleaning products.
It's also possible to install a rainwater harvester to flush the loo, wash your clothes, showering, and clean the car - again, saving a tremendous amount of wastewater.
Sustainable House Feature #8: Energy gathering
Everyone knows about solar panels, and as time goes by, they're becoming more and more affordable.
But you don't necessarily need to power the whole house from solar panels. And with the costs of electricity skyrocketing, some savvy homeowners are turning to solar battery storage solutions for use around the home.
A solar battery storage system often looks like a car battery that recharges itself from detachable solar panels. They cost around £1500, can store around 6kW of energy, and can power over ten devices at the same time.
While these are not currently considered powerful enough to run the entire home, they’re the perfect solution for charging electricals, such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. and running 240v appliances.
And if you live near a stream or river, hydroelectric energy is an affordable alternative. Hydroelectric generators garner power from the natural, gravitational movement of water and are much less of an eye sore than wind-powered turbines. In fact, a small hydroelectric generator can potentially run an entire home.
Hydroelectric generators generally work at their optimum for around 70% of the year when water levels are high. So, many sustainable homes use hydroelectric combined with solar to keep their homes running all year round.
Sustainable House Feature #9: Your energy habits
For maximum home sustainability, it’s essential to consider HOW we use our energy, making savings wherever possible. It’s estimated that we waste 30% of our overall energy consumption with appliances left on standby.
Of course, newer appliances tend to use less energy during standby mode, but they still draw some power, which is a waste.
So, if there's one thing we can all do - regardless of the general sustainability of our home - it is to switch appliances off at the mains rather than leave them on standby.
Irrespective of where we source our energy, conservation has to be the way to a safer, surer future for our planet.
What features will your sustainable house have?
We hope we’ve given you some ideas about how you might incorporate greater sustainability into your building project or existing home.
Remember, it’s not just about how mindfully you source the building materials for a structure; it’s how your home interacts with its environment. Think about how you can change your habits to save resources such as energy and water.
Consider how you might harness energy from nature rather than fossil fuels; explore clean burning fuels like bioethanol rather than coal or wood; reuse when you refresh your decor rather than buy new, and switch to greener brands for washing and cleaning.
Together, we can make the world a safer place for everyone.