Green Ideas for Greener Homes

By Guy Alexander Bell - Never Paint Again (www.NeverPaintAgain.co.uk)

With more “green” legislation coming into building design and construction, more and more houses and commercial buildings are being built with “green” credentials. Things such as solar panels, better insulation, timber from sustainable sources, are just a few of the latest trends in building, but what about existing and older buildings?

In this article we look at various steps that the average person can take in order to make their older house a bit more environmentally friendly for future generations.

How can a hundred year old house be green, or made to be green?

Putting aside the notion of actually painting it green (Doh!) and embracing the literal sense, what can be done for old houses? If we consider a VERY old house, dating back to maybe 1600, it could be argued that these houses were far more green than modern ones, or even ones built over the past 100 years, but why is that?

When a house was built 400 years ago, it was built with whatever was around (in the literal sense) at the time. So if it was being built near a quarry, it would be made of local stone. If there were reed beds or hay etc nearby, it would have a thatched roof, making use of crops that would have otherwise been burnt or thrown away.

If it was near the sea, many of the timbers would be recycled from old ships or boats, and in fact many buildings in established seaside locations in and around the British isles have some surprises in their lofts when you look! Many an old ships mast was made into a staircase, and timbers were used in the roof and for lintels above doors and windows.

The global transport infrastructure did not exist then. Goods were sourced locally, or at least brought by sea, river or canal, from somewhere fairly nearby.

When undertaking home improvements on a more modern house, it difficult in today’s world to keep your green credentials. For example, what about all the car journeys to go and fetch the new items from the DIY shop? What about the builders turning up in their old van? For a month. (plus in some cases, the amount of methane builders’ emit! Cups of tea are very important to a builder, but not too many, and make sure no egg sandwiches and baked beans are served!)

What about the fact that the items (paint, tools, whatever you buy), have probably clocked up loads of “carbon miles” by being shipped around the world, and sometimes from countries with very poor human right records? That’s not very green is it?

So how can you make an old house green?

Well if the interior is concentrated on first, steps could be taken such as solar powered heating and power from rooftop or garden based wind power units. Setting them up can be expensive, but the cost is falling all the time. Make enough power, and if you have a surplus, you can sell it back to the national grid, although how long it would be before the government find a way to tax that is another matter, although inevitable, it could be argued!

If we all generated our own electric like this, the need to build new power stations would diminish. You need to take a long term view on this, and it is only the most ardent “pioneers” who are doing this at present. Also why not use solar powered lights in the garden?

Interior

You could also hang curtains made from hemp and buy some new green-friendly furniture. You could buy decent second hand curtains or even furniture from a charity shop (many sell nearly new ones at bargain prices), and from an ethical point of view, you’ve donated to a worthwhile cause. Re-use, don’t throw away, even if you can afford to buy new, do you really HAVE to?

Buy “A” graded energy efficient appliances such as dishwashers, fridges, etc and these will save you money too. Take showers instead of baths. During the autumn months, install cheap and effective drought excluder’s to cut down on heat loss. Have double glazing fitted if you don’t have it already, although wooden double glazing is better as UPVC manufacture is perhaps not as environmentally friendly as it could be.

Your plans could also include bizarre sounding ideas like chairs and sofas made from recycled bottles and cushions with recycled stuffing, deck chairs made of old milk cartons, and chairs made with removable, washable and replaceable covers. Do you really need to buy brand new furniture? Also try and find a local workshop or skilled tradesman who could make the furniture locally, preferably from re-used wood. From experience this is harder to find depending on where you live.

If doing an extension or major refurbishment, you could also install wood floors made from reclaimed pallets; you could install long life low emission fluorescent bulbs, and install skylights roof windows or larger windows around the house to minimize daytime lighting needs. And throughout the house why not use non-toxic, water-based paints?

Very importantly, make sure your loft is well insulated. Many local councils in the UK run a “warm homes” scheme for people on low incomes.

This was in fact a little known piece of government legislation that enabled this and is covered in full under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. Take advantage of these. Most heat loss contrary to what double glazing salesmen tell their “victims”, sorry, “customers”, is through the roof, not the windows!

Exterior

The exterior of the house also needs attention. Use water catchment systems like water “butts” to harvest water for watering plants etc. Make sure all your windows are in good condition and are clean to let in the most light. Make sure there are no areas where damp can get into the house. Damp can not only make your house feel colder, it can also very badly affect your health (buy to let landlords take note please).

Make sure the exterior walls are in good condition and get them repainted regularly. One option would be to choose a professional specialist company to apply a long life exterior wall coating. This specialist high performance paint is installed with either a spray or a roller, depending on the material used.

Not only can it cut down on spending money year after year repainting, it can also stop damp and make the inside of the house warmer due to not only cutting out wind chill, but also insulating properties too. Most of these coatings are far thicker than paint and they don’t need to be redone ever year, so that’s about 10 coats of paint at the same time, saving money and the environment in the long term, especially as many are made with natural dyes and resins in small to mid size manufacturing facilities instead of huge multinational factories belching out smoke and chemicals.

The other benefit is that the work is done ONCE every 25 years instead of every year, thus less materials used in time, less van and lorry journeys, and less pollution. (And less money) Do more research about how to make your house greener, get involved! There are plenty of great websites out there that can offer some valuable help and advice to start going green, and staying green, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the whole world will take note, but it is worth a go I suppose.

Green Lifestyle

There are other smaller things you can do to make your household use less energy and be more green. Consider a hybrid (electric) car. A combination of an electric motor and a normal one. Few cars have them (probably due to pressure from huge oil companies to buy more fuel), but one day these will probably be the norm. If the public transport system in the UK wasn’t so awful, you could consider taking a bus or train (where they still exist), although if renovating a house, that is going to be pretty hard, but tell that to the government!

Don’t leave your TV, stereo etc on standby. If you’re not using it, switch it off. Cup of tea? Don’t fill the kettle up for one cup, you’re throwing money away. Off on a plane? With cheap flights it’s tempting but think what you are doing to the planet. Why not holiday in the UK instead. (No, don’t laugh!)

Can we move to a society where we can all “carbon offset” anything we do that uses energy? Carbon offsetting is whereby if you chop down 10 trees to build a house made of wood, then you replant 10 trees (or even more) to “offset” what you’ve done. A very brave vision indeed, although if society will change for the better, only time will tell.

With summer around the corner, traditionally the busiest time in the UK for home improvement, just stop and think for a minute about what you’re doing! Unless you’re mega rich, do you REALLY need that outside spa? Do you REALLY need to buy brand new chain store furniture? And why put a finish outside that you have to repaint every 2 years or so? What’s the point?

Evidence from various sources, and from my own analysis, suggest that the housing market in the UK maybe up for a sharp drop in 2008. As being “green” and environmentally sound is becoming far more popular as people become aware of what they are doing to the planet, a “green” house, or at least a house that is energy efficient, coupled with one that is in good repair and visually appealing, will be easier to sell, and cheaper to maintain in the long term and will provide instant street credit, with the advantage of helping to save our planet.

So what’s stopping you becoming green now?

About Author:
Never Paint Again: Since 1986, we have extensive experience in repairing and painting all types of houses, in every corner of the UK and we are confident that we can help you too. We offer home improvement services across England and Wales




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