Starting a new build is an exciting time for anyone, especially if it’s your first time building your own home. You’re starting a new chapter in your life, pouring your ideas and personality into a physical space that you can share with the people you care about.
Whether you’re starting your first build or expanding your property portfolio, it’s also a great time to think about sustainability. There are a lot of things you can do right at the start of the process that will save you time and money and reduce the environmental impact of your house, often with very little additional effort upfront. Read on for seven tips on how to set your new house up for sustainability.
1. Consider Solar Passive Design
Heating and cooling are often the biggest energy guzzlers in your home, particularly if you use a reverse-cycle air conditioning system. Solar passive homes can warm and cool themselves automatically without needing a single plug or wire, letting their natural design do the heavy lifting.
Solar passive design uses large north-facing windows, strategic shading and insulation to maximise the benefits of the sun’s position throughout the year. In winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, light will shine directly onto all the north-facing windows and warm the house throughout the day. In summer, however, when the sun is shining down from a higher angle, the eaves will shade the windows and reduce the amount of heat coming into the house.
This design is most effective when paired with double-glazed windows and proper roof/wall insulation. It can also be helpful to plant deciduous trees around the house, as they will provide more shade in summer and let through more light in winter. It’s also important to consider proper ventilation, as this kind of heating/cooling doesn’t move the air around like a traditional air conditioner would.
2. Plan for Solar/Renewable Energy
In countries as sunny as Australia, there is simply no reason not to look at installing a solar panel and battery system for your new home. Solar energy is cheaper, cleaner and more reliable than the power grid. Switching to solar is one of the biggest steps you can take towards making your home more environmentally and financially sustainable.
Even if you aren’t ready to make the financial investment of installing solar panels right from the start, it’s always better to design your roof in a way that leaves space for them in the future. When you are ready to think about going solar, our friends at Plico have a handy tool that shows you the difference a solar system could make to your monthly power bill. They also have solar + battery setups available from $38.90 per week.
The benefits of solar energy are widely known, whether you’re looking to reduce your power bill or go completely off-grid. If you do decide to wait before investing in full-size solar panels, smaller devices like solar-powered garden lights with rechargeable batteries are a great first step.
3. Use Eco-friendly Paints and Building Materials
Eco-friendly paints are better both for the environment and for your health. Many traditional paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that can vapourise into air – which is exactly what they will do in your home.
Plant-based or water-based paints use natural, biodegradable materials to decrease their carbon footprint and minimise chemical emissions in the home. They are often produced using renewable energy and the manufacturing process emits less toxic waste than that of traditional paints.
These options are also more cost-effective than traditional paints. While the tin of paint might cost more per litre, environmentally friendly paints have better colour retention, abrasion resistance, viscosity and paint coverage. Lighter colours are typically more affordable, as it is much more difficult to find dark low-VOC paint (VOC chemicals are found in most tinting elements).
The environmental benefits will be compounded if you’re painting over walls built from eco-friendly or recycled materials. Reclaimed wood and recycled steel are great options for reducing landfill without sacrificing the strength of your house. Reduce your carbon footprint and make your house stand out with sustainably sourced materials like cork floors, bamboo walls and sheep’s wool insulation.
4. Buy Energy-Saving Appliances
This is another case of spending slightly more upfront to save money in the long run. Energy-saving appliances use less power and last longer than cheaper alternatives, so you’ll save money both in your power bill and from not needing to replace your appliances as often. These benefits are even more noticeable when applied to higher-consumption appliances like refrigerators and washing machines.
Using less energy means you are reducing the carbon footprint of your home, and replacing appliances less frequently reduces your contributions to landfill. Energy-saving appliances are a great way to keep up your sustainability efforts even after you’ve moved into your new build.
If you’re not in a position to completely fit out your home with 5-star energy saving appliances, buying relatively new products is a good place to start. Older or degraded products use more electricity than they should – and a lot more than new products. Additionally, when we all use less electricity, there is less demand on the grid. This pushes energy prices down, saving money for every single customer connected to the grid.
5. Minimise Waste with Compost
Australia wastes around 7.6 million tonnes of food every year – around 300kg per person. Between produce that never leaves the farm, products that are rejected by shops and food that goes uneaten by households or the hospitality industry, we lose around $36.3 billion worth of food per year.
These losses aren’t just damaging for our economy; approximately 3% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste, and the wasted portion of produce accounts for around 2600 gigalitres of water (the equivalent of five Sydney harbours) and more than 25 million hectares of farmland (a landmass larger than the entire state of Victoria).
Composting is a fantastic way to reduce your house’s food wastage. Uneaten food (including bits you wouldn’t be eating anyway, like banana peels and apple cores) can go straight to your garden, reducing your contributions to landfill while also providing natural fertiliser for your plants. Many a pumpkin patch has started spontaneously from a few forgotten seeds in buried compost!
Also, don’t forget that there’s an important difference between biodegradable and compostable bin bags – biodegradable bags may break down easily, but they’ll still fill your garden with microplastics. Grab some compostable bags from Bunnings and bury your compost straight out of the bin!
6. Plant a Kitchen Garden
Continuing in the theme of sustainable cooking, a great way to set your home up for minimising waste is to build in a kitchen garden. Growing your own vegetables and herbs saves money and reduces waste, as you can take exact portions straight from your garden into your kitchen. Fruit trees are also great for shade, decoration and a regular supply of seasonal fruits.
This also cuts down on the amount of plastic you’re using by removing packaged fruit, vegetables and herbs from your shopping list. You won’t have to worry about chemicals or pesticides in your fresh produce if it’s coming from your garden – assuming, of course, that you’re rinsing those vegetables in filtered water!
If you want to take your garden’s sustainability to the next level, you can also build in a chicken coop. Chickens bring free food scrap disposal, pest control and fertiliser all in one – plus a regular supply of fresh eggs. They also make excellent pets!
7. Install Complete Home Filtration
We may have a slight bias here, but there is no denying that a whole-home filtration system is great for sustainability. When you have clean, soft water running through your entire home, you increase the lifespan of your pipes, fixtures, taps and water-using appliances. After spending extra money on an energy-saving kettle, it would be a shame to ruin it with limescale in just a few years. Your hot water system will also be able to run more efficiently, reducing your energy consumption.
Complete Home Filtration also cuts down on chemical run-off from your home. Softer water makes cleaning chemicals much more effective in smaller amounts – or eliminates the need for them entirely! Many common stains around wet areas are caused by calcium, magnesium and iron in your water, so filtering out excess minerals at the point of entry will cut down on cleaning costs.
Soaps and shampoos also lather and dissolve much more effectively in filtered water, so every bottle you buy will last longer. This reduces both the amount you spend on products and the number of plastic bottles and containers you use throughout the year.
Sustainability is a global goal that needs to be tackled on a global scale, but there are things each of us can do to live more sustainably. Setting yourself up for sustainable living right from the start is the best way to future-proof your home and save yourself a significant amount of money while also protecting the environment and reducing your carbon footprint.
Don’t forget to check out Plico for advice on solar + battery setups – renewable energy is the future, so use their tools to understand where you’re going.
And, of course, if you’re interested in learning more about our systems or organising a FREE water test, send us a message below or fill out our quick web survey.