Why create natural homes?

We are using more and more energy in our homes and this increase is partly responsible for global warming and our changing climate. So how can we save energy at home and create cleaner, greener living spaces?

The carbon emissions produced by heating, cooling and powering homes have been rising by close to 2% every year, mainly due to increasingly larger homes packed with more and more power hungry equipment. In the States the average family has four times more living space per person than they did 50 years ago. In this country our electricity usage has gone up 70% since 1970 and with reports from the Energy Saving Trust showing that our energy consumption in the home is likely to double in the next three years, we need to take action. So how can we green up our homes from the inside out?

Saving energy at home has the added benefit of saving you money at the same time as reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some local councils offer energy efficiency grants that could help you undertake larger energy saving measures. But there are plenty of smaller ways that you can take action straight away to reduce the carbon footprint of your home. And they don’t have to mean shivering in a small, dark house. Little changes can make a big impact – the less energy we use, less CO2 is released.

Heating and hot water

The power used for heating accounts for 82% of energy usage in our homes in the UK. Here are some ideas for making yours more energy efficient. Insulation – during the winter months seal up cracks round the glass in windows and doors. Enlist the help of your children and make a sock snake draught excluder together. Loft insulation has gone green with various materials from recycled paper to sheeps wool. Put on a sweater – turn your heating down by 1 degree and switch your hot water thermostat to 50 degrees – it’s unlikely that you will notice but your bills will show the difference. Draw the curtains at dusk to retain the heat in the evening. Wood for good – a wood burning stove is probably the most eco-friendly way of heating your house, as long as the wood that you are using comes from replenished sources. There are grants available for wood fuel boilers and stoves. Condense – if you rely on gas or oil for heating, install a condensing boiler – they save money, are more efficient, and produce less CO2.

Electricity

Switch to a green energy supplier – such as Good Energy this means that the company puts an equal amount of renewable energy into the National Grid for every unit of electricity you use. So your home won’t actually be powered by renewables but it’s a start. Or make your own, the best place to start is with a rooftop solar water heater. These are one of the most cost effective ways of generating your own power. Other systems can require a large upfront investment but there are Government grants to help with the costs.

Appliances

The white goods – when replacing an old fridge or freezer, be sure to dispose of it carefully, your local council should be able to help and when choosing a new model go for an A-rated energy efficiency model. Replace old bulbs – Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs are extremely wasteful – 95% of the energy used goes to produce heat rather than light. Energy efficient bulbs can last ten times longer, producing four times more light per unit of energy used. Shut off stand-by – in the average home 5-15% of energy consumed is by appliances such as TVs and stereos on stand-by and mobile chargers. Get in the habit of switching electrical equipment off at the wall when not in use. Washday blues – keep the wash cycle temperature as low as possible 30 should be enough to clean even muddy football socks. Line dry washing and opt for ecofriendly washing products such as Eco-balls or soap nuts.

Decorating

When furnishing our homes there are many steps that we can take to ensure that our space is as ethical as possible. Colour me green – when choosing paint opt for ‘natural’ paints which are less likely to contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate into the air and can act as irritants or carcinogens. Natural or ‘green’ paints are made from plants, chalk and linseed oil. They may take longer to dry than regular paints but that extra time is a worthwhile investment when you consider that you are safeguarding your family’s health and the future of the planet. Furniture – it is now possible to choose furniture made from reclaimed materials which is much better than purchasing new as it saves precious resources and energy. In addition to the energy required for production, MDF used in most flat-pack furniture leaches chemicals such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. When buying new wooden furniture look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label.

Construction

Low impact building has grown in popularity in recent years and it is now possible to see examples of these often beautiful natural structures around the country. Materials used include; rammed earth or earth bags, hemp, straw bales, timber and reclaimed materials such as old tyres. Earthships are buildings made from recycled resources. – Earth – one third of the world’s population live in earthen dwellings. The earth is usually stacked and compressed to form walls although it can also be mixed with a filler material like straw and applied to a framework. Hemp – hemp stalks are mixed with lime to form a solid wall that insulates fairly well. Straw bale – bales are stacked on top of one another like bricks to form a hairy wall that is then covered with clay. Timber – if sourced locally without chemical treatment, timber can be used to build a low impact home. Recycled products unwanted car tyres can be rammed full of earth and tied together to create walls. Bottles set into clay can be used to make walls providing effective insulation and a kaleidoscope of light when the sun shines through.

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