If you’re building or refurbishing a home, chances are you’ve come across the concept of eco-friendly house designs. But what are they, and are they easy to implement? Luckily, there are lots of ways to incorporate some sustainability principles into your design and decor. Here are five of our favourites…
1. Want a more eco-friendly house? Slow down
We know it’s tough when there are a million and one things to do and you’d like your new home to simply just be done, but taking a slower, more mindful, less wasteful approach to decorating is a key way of reducing your impact on the planet. Instead of rushing out and buying new things, try to wait a while.
Most interior designers advocate spending some time just living in your new space – seeing how the light travels, exploring how you use it – before making any big commitments or starting big renovating projects. You might find you don’t need to make as many changes as you thought.
2. Use sustainable materials
No matter how big or small your budget, you can make a significant impact by simply choosing eco-friendly products and materials. Look for materials like cork, clay and bamboo (great for flooring - just make sure that it’s formaldehyde-free and FSC-certified).
When it comes to textiles, try to stick to those woven from natural fibres such as hemp, flax and organic wool or cotton, all of which have less of an impact on the environment than synthetic ones.
Jute, for example, is wonderful material – durable and natural, it’s very comfortable underfoot so perfect for both indoor and outdoor rugs. Many big brands, including Ikea, have introduced furniture made from recycled materials as well.
Other simple ways to be more eco-friendly at home when renovating include making sure to kit each room out with energy-efficient LED lighting, choosing the most energy-efficient white goods you can and fitting a smart thermostat (or exploring sustainable heating options).
3. Choose your big buys wisely
Invest in good quality, practical products that are built to last; this is especially true of furniture. The concept of fast fashion has definitely entered the world of interiors and on-trend cheap pieces are abundant, but often made out of poor quality materials that don’t stand up to daily use.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Is this something I can see myself passing on to my kids?” They may be a bit pricier, but you’ll save in the long run.
4. Pick the most eco-friendly paint you can
A typical new build these days is built with materials that contain all sorts of toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde (often found in plywood and pressed wood products).
While it can be difficult to make sure all aspects of your build or refurb are toxin-free, one place you can make an impact is with your paint choice. While something man-made like paint can never truly be considered environmentally-friendly, there are a few key things you can look out for:
- Low VOC: You’ll often see paint companies claiming to have low or zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). These are the gases given off by paints that contain solvents. When high-VOC paints are used indoors, they can lead to dizziness and headaches. Luckily, the government regulates how much VOC paint can safely contain. It does mean that you need to be mindful to use the right paint in the right setting; outdoor paint, for example, may not be safe to use indoors.
- Ingredients: Make sure your paint lists its ingredients clearly. Things to avoid include vinyl resins, synthetic dyes and petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde and ammonia (this is particularly important if anyone in your home is living with asthma or eczema). Things to look for include sustainable vegetable oils, titanium dioxide, china clay and high levels of (fully-traceable) pigments. These days, thanks to more people committing to living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, you can even source 100 per cent plant-based paints; these tend to have the lowest VOC of all.
- Breathability: If your paint contains plastic ingredients, it will create a barrier on your walls that will trap air and lead to a plethora of problems, including mould. Look for “breathable” paint, made using natural ingredients.
- Sustainable manufacturing: Don’t be afraid to do a little digging and research on your paint company. Paint brands at the top of their sustainability game will not only use natural ingredients but should also be working to make their manufacturing processes as low-impact as possible and commit to working with suppliers that do the same. Ideally, go for brands that manufacture their paint in the UK.
5. Reuse, recycle and repurpose
One of the best ways to reduce your impact when renovating and furnishing a new home is to repair or update what you already own. Could that tatty coffee table be transformed with a fresh lick of paint? Do you really need a new sofa or would new covers on your current one do the job? You can also look for opportunities to put existing pieces to use in new areas of your home without having to buy lots of new things - there are lots of clever ways to breathe new life into old furniture.
Failing that, if you really do need to get rid of things, try to hold off on calling in the skip and adding to landfill waste. Instead, donate or give away what you can (there are lots of ways of listing unwanted furniture online and many charity shops will even come and pick it up for free).
Or, better yet, hold a “swap party” with friends – bring items you no longer have use for (or pictures of big furniture pieces), add some drinks and nibbles and you could end up with some gorgeous almost-new pieces for your home, without having to spend a penny.