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How to do Sustainable Home Renovations

By George Hadgelias

Whether you’re renovating from top to bottom or simply making a few style changes, there are some easy steps you can take to reduce your footprint. 

Renovating sustainably is all about careful consideration of materials, products and energy use – and creating a home with these sustainable values at its core.

Before starting any renovation, you must first consider what tasks you can do yourself, and which require you to call in professionals. This will help set your budget and determine choices of materials, finishes and products.

Not only that, but a professional should have the latest knowledge around sustainable building materials, insulation requirements, passive design, and eco-friendly homewares, furniture and paints.

What is a sustainable home?

There is no one definition, however, the goal of a sustainable home is to reduce its impact on the environment as much as possible.

A sustainable home will strive to be more energy efficient, use ethically sourced, re-purposed or recycled materials and reduce unnecessary waste.

There is also the Nationwide Housing Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) which scores new homes on how well the design fosters energy efficiency. It is generally considered that a rating higher than 7 is a good, energy efficient home.

When it comes to renovating, you may not be able to get a NatHERS rating, but you can incorporate some of the standards assessed by consulting an architect or considering your building materials, orientation, thermal mass, window glazing and so on.

After the renovation, when you’re furnishing your home, also think of how you can reduce, reuse, recycle.

How to renovate sustainably

Depending on the scale of your renovation you can aim to be more sustainable in a number of ways.

If your renovation is simply cosmetic, you may consider how you can source ethical products or materials, and whether there are any energy efficiency measures you can take – from investing in high star-rated appliances or popping in LED globes.

Here’s some general advice for both extensive and simple renovations.

1. Start with a sustainable plan

Try to reuse, recycle and upcycle as much as possible. Sure, it’s nice to have new items, but throwing everything out is detrimental to both the environment and your wallet.

There may be existing materials that can be reused such as old timber floorboards used to create shelving or line a wall. Be sure to plan the renovation properly to consider what you can keep, and what needs replacing. This includes things like flooring, furniture and fixtures.

If you find yourself clueless, consult a builder who is inclined toward sustainable practices. They can offer some advice on items you may be able to reuse.

2. Do your research

Consider all the products involved in your reno, from the materials and finishes used on the outside of your home, through to the interior decor.

When it comes to paints, oils, flooring and textiles, find out if they’re zero or low VOC (volatile organic compounds), and if not, seek another option.

Be sure of where all of your products have come from. The most reliable way is to use local makers and ethically-made, fair trade homewares and furniture. Many retailers are starting to use recycled and FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council certified) timbers to ensure ethical production.

3. Mix old and new

Incorporate second-hand and recycled pieces into the reno, including recycled timbers, vintage furniture and materials.

Don’t worry too much about potential scratches and dents in second-hand furniture, and instead consider the shape, style and quality. Remember, you can always refinish it yourself.

Add in some new sustainable pieces – things you’ve made or upcycled yourself – and get a totally new look that is better for you, your family and the planet.

4. Be flexible

Keep an open mind to what actually needs to be thrown out and replaced or simply needs some tinkering.

For instance, if you’ve always dreamed of a claw foot bathtub, ask yourself if you can achieve the effect you desire without having to rip out your perfectly good existing tub. Would a new feature wall, mirror or tapware create the sense of drama you crave?

Can you create more light in a dark room by using colour, increasing the size of the window or adding a skylight, instead of knocking down walls?

Does your old sofa need a revamp? Use pretty cushions and textiles to update your lounge rather than sending it to landfill. Alternatively, swap or donate it to somewhere in-need and source a new lounge via Facebook marketplace.

Benefits of living in a sustainable home

The main benefit folks enjoy about living sustainable is the reduced cost.

By improving energy efficiency, through passive heating and cooling, use of energy efficient appliances and electrical functions, solar panels and other measures, you’re likely to massively reduce your energy bills.

Other benefits can be less waste. While not directly linked to a renovation, you may opt to start a compost bin to reduce your landfill.

You’ll also find your home is more unique and more ‘you’ – giving you a more fulfilling and one-of-a-sanctuary to call your own.

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