Considering timber windows for your home is a great way to improve the carbon footprint of your new build, but what else is there you can do?
With climate change increasingly high on the agenda and our homes making up to 30 per cent of our total carbon footprint, building your own home is the perfect time to think about ways you can reduce it.
There are a huge, and growing number of technologies out there that can help you both calculate, design and build your home to be as eco-friendly as possible, making it sustainable now and in the years to come.
Start thinking about how to improve the energy efficiency of the house as early as possible in the planning stages. “At this stage, alternative layouts and materials can be considered and details can be refined to use less material. As the design progresses these opportunities diminish, says Andrea Charlson, senior engineer of advanced technology and research, Arup, London.
Here are some of the areas that need to be considered in order to make the biggest impact:
Heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems
These are the areas that will have the biggest impact on your home’s overall carbon footprint, and therefore need to be considered first. It is worth putting as much budget as possible into this area in order to make the greatest savings in the long term.
Introducing smart house changes to make sure that your building uses energy as efficiently as possible is a simple place to start. For example, rather than have ventilation systems that are open all the time, which can cool down the air in the house, instead install sensors which know when to open the ventilation system when the air quality reduces or moisture increases.
Use timers for your heating and air conditioning systems with different temperatures for different times of days. There are also smart systems that provide continuous feedback to thermostats so heating is on for as short a period as possible in order to maintain the temperature.
You can also consider eco-friendly forms of heating such as ground source heat pumps, which still need some electricity but will keep your home warm by storing water in pipes in the ground and the simple physics rule that heat rises. Honestly, it really is that simple. They deliver much lower levels of heat over longer periods than traditional heating systems so your radiators won’t get as hot, which can also be a bonus to those with young families.
You need a space outside to lay the pipes in so this is a great options for new builds with a small amount of land attached to them.
If these aren’t an option then consider the most energy efficient heating and air conditioning appliances you can afford.
This is a simple consideration that could affect the bills for lighting and heating. In the Northern Hemisphere you can reduce the amount of heating you need by ensuring your windows are South facing, allowing as much light in to warm the house up as possible during the winter.
This will also help to make your house as bright as possible which could reduce the need for lighting, or certainly the amount of time it needs to be on.
Avoid boiling hot kitchens in the summer by putting them on the North side of the house. This is an old trick used to reduced food spoilage, and can still be considered.
Can you introduce skylights so you can avoid having to have additional light fittings in the first place?
These decisions are deeply site specific and will involve you getting out with a compass and considering other aspects of the site such as whether you are overlooked, whether there are trees casting shade or if there is a view you particularly want to take in.
Done well you can enhance the living space profoundly, transforming a simple space into one with natural light that penetrates deeply.
Following on from this point is obviously consideration of your windows. Not just the positioning but the material. Getting windows with as high a U rating as possible is key to ensuring that allowing light in is as balanced as possible with heat conservation in the building.
You should also consider potential window dressings and choosing the most eco-friendly options for this in order to maximise impact.
The same can be said for doors which should also be as draught free, insulating and eco-friendly as possible.
Insulating your home doesn’t stop at the doors and windows. You also want to make sure that any heat created for the home is captured in it. Consider the development of your roof and the materials being used for that. Is it insulated? What with? What is the most effective insulation you can use in this build that is appropriate for the site? The second largest amount of heat lost from a home after the windows is through the roof, so this is an important one to get right.
While we don’t pay a huge amount for water in this country and we can choose whether or not we have a meter, water requires a large amount of energy to be sanitised. Conversely, the production of electricity also requires a large amount of water so this is an important area to consider when trying to improve the sustainability of your home.
One of the best things you can do is see if you can set up your plumbing to allow grey water from baths, sinks and the dishwasher (basically everywhere except the toilet) to be used a second time. This is quite standard in Japan where grey water is used to flush toilets. If you can’t get the plumbing to use it to flush the loo then see if you can use it to irrigate an outside area.
For your plumbing consider a dual flush toilet, and also taps and shower fitting which aerate the water so you can use less. To future proof plumbing make sure it is easily reachable and fixable to avoid problems like leaks going ignored, which can also lead to significant wastage of water.
Use recycled materials to build your home where possible. This will automatically reduce the carbon footprint of your home. Consider the following:
- Rubber roofing made from recycled products
- Composite decking made from recycled paper and wood waste
- Paper-based countertops made from tree pulp from managed forests
- Carpets made from recycled plastic bottles.
Any materials you use should be as long lasting as possible. You want to make sure that you get away with as few replacements as possible during your lifetime, and indeed, the lifetime of the building.
Any new materials you use should be as environmentally non-impactful as possible. Rather than carpets which are full of chemicals and never rot down, could you have bamboo or cork flooring? Wood from sustainable sources is a classic and eco-friendly choice.
Concrete has a very high carbon footprint so consider how you could reduce the amount of concrete used in the production of your home. Sure, the foundations will use some, but what else could you render the walls with?
What could be considered a sustainable, suitable and cost-effective option for your new build will be both highly personal and also site specific. Not everywhere is the best place to build a house made of hay bales, but there are plenty of other options such as sustainable timber frames and locally quarried stone that should be considered by you over and above obvious choices such as brick, concrete and plastic.