I'm very excited to share the first guest blog which is by a knowledgable school friend of mine, Ben Sears. Ben has a degree in Environmental Protection and has worked as both an Environmental Engineer for one of the UK's leading construction firms and as a Sustainability Consultant. Ben is based in Cardiff and has a particular interest in sustainable construction and renewable energy. Follow him on Twitter @Benvironmentals.
We’re constantly told that we’re a nation obsessed with home ownership. It’s perhaps therefore hardly surprising that we’re also a nation of renovators. Our homes are our castles, and we want our castles to look better, be bigger and have kitchenette-diner-living rooms. What many of us don’t consider however, is this period of disruption, demolition and dust can be the perfect opportunity to incorporate energy saving devices, sustainable materials and low-carbon construction practices in to our homes, killing two birds with one stone (or a sustainable rammed earth brick if you will)
Here are 5 simple and effective ideas for reducing the environmental impact when you redecorate your home. Based on some of the most common redecorating projects, these ideas will help you use less energy, reduce your carbon footprint, save you money and, more importantly - leave you bathing in a warm glow of environmentally responsible smugness.
1. Laying down new flooring
Floorboards: If it’s wooden floorboards or slats you’re after, there’s one very simple way of reducing your environmental impact – Buy Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC products must meet stringent standards, ensuring they are grown and felled in a responsible and sustainable manner. The FSC have a search tool to find certified products and suppliers but alternatively just look for the FSC stamp when your browsing showrooms or the Internet.
Tiles & laminates: For tiles and laminates, there are a host of innovative products that use recycled or reformed materials without sacrificing design and aesthetics. One option is Bergo Flooring®, it has all the design and functionality you’d expect from our Swedish cousins. Bergo’s Eco Unique tile is manufactured from 100% recycled material and is available in a range of bold colours. They also assemble incredibly easily, using a series of clips that even the most reluctant DIYer could handle.
Carpets: Fewer people are carpeting their homes these days, but you can’t beat the feel of pile on your bare feet first thing in the morning. It feels even better when you know your carpet hasn’t required industrial chemicals or energy-intensive processing to get to your bedroom floor. Manx® carpets are (as the name suggests) an Isle of Mann-based company who have been operating for over 30 years. Their Eco Collection uses P.E.T bottles to produce an ECOSMART® fibre which is then woven in to bespoke patterns. They also have a 100% wool range, makes the most of the islands thriving sheep population. With the wool market having all but collapsed in the UK, these carpets make the most of what is essentially now a waste product for many farmers. Wool also has extremely good heat retention properties, meaning it will help to keep your home toasty during the winter months, whilst keeping heating costs down too.
Wallpaper has had something of a chequered past in terms of it's environmental performance, with the 70s and 80s seeing extensive use of poisonous vinyls and acrylic coatings. Today though, it's seeing something of a resurgence and with companies such as Chiswick-based Urbane Living in the mix, it's perhaps not surprising. They have a range of designs using natural materials such as bamboo, sisal grasscloth and paper weave. There are a few airmiles on some of the products, but largely because they aim to source from local suppliers in developing countries
3. Re-plastering walls and ceilings
Archaeological records show lime plaster being used as far back as 8000 BC and many Roman examples still survive today, highlighting the resilience of this natural product. One reason it has fallen out of favour in construction is its relatively long setting time compared to synthetic plasters, but this can be reduced through the use of hydrated or slaked lime. Hydrated lime plaster can be bought very reasonably from most building suppliers, including online at Conserv. Plastering requires real skill and expertise if you don't want your walls and ceilings to look like they were finished with an ice cream scoop. Lime plaster is extremely caustic too (don't handle it without gloves) and requires even more skill to apply than modern plasters. Lime plasterers are in decline but an online search should find one in your area. Good luck!
4. Installing a new roof
From green roofs to locally sourced slate, there are many options for reducing the carbon footprint of your house and increasing its energy efficiency. In Britain's climate, it's perhaps more important that roof coverings do a good job of retaining internal heat than reflecting solar heat. If it's a more traditional slate tile you're after, one great alternative is Eco Slate. Made from 100% recycled material, it means you needn't worry yourself about a big hole being dug in a hillside quarry somewhere in north Wales, and you'll have a strong, pliable, self-bonding and natural-looking roof tile.
5. Relaying the driveway
When it comes to aggregates and hardcore, the most bang-for-your-buck both environmentally and economically comes from using crushed demolition by-products, and the closer to home this can be sourced the better. One way to do this is to keep an eye on Gumtree or Freecycle where there are often builders looking to get rid of what is usually considered a waste product. It's a winner for all concerned - the builder doesn't have to pay for transport (although they may even deliver to you) or landfill costs and you get a free driveway. You then just need a means of spreading it, which if you have a shovel and don't mind a bit of hard manual labour also won't cost you a penny!