ARTICLE Persephone Nicholas
Making the most of a mid-range budget (starting at $15,000) is all about planning and good design. Thinking ahead and doing your research gives you more options – and can make things more affordable – than having to make decisions under pressure. So if you’re considering renovating, and want to make your home as sustainable as possible, it’s never too early to start thinking about it.
Cutting energy consumption
Reducing the amount of heating, cooling and lighting required is one of the key priorities for an eco-renovation. Achieving this reduces energy consumption, so helps minimise the cost of running the home.
According to the Eco Council’s website, 33% of household energy is used for heating or cooling our homes. The site says good design can eliminate the need to heat or cool except in extreme weather conditions.
Passive design, which takes into account the orientation of your property, as well as the local climate, should be complemented with superior insulation. This is particularly important for the roof, which is the primary source of heat gain and loss. If you are performing significant renovations, which entail opening external walls, make sure they are fully insulated before re-installing. Around 35% of heat loss occurs through walls, so this is well worth doing.
Similarly, the Eco Council reports that installing a solar hot water system could cut the 25% of a household’s energy requirement that goes on heating hot water by more than 80%.
A further 5% of household energy is used on lighting. Well-designed living spaces that receive sufficient natural light during the day can help reduce this to a minimum. It’s also worth noting that it takes 400% more power to run a standard bulb compared to an LED, so switching to LEDs could save you hundreds of dollars over the lifetime of the bulb. Savings will be even more significant if you have lots of lights in your home, but try to avoid the common – and wasteful – practice of having more lights installed than you need.
Energy efficiency should be your top priority if you’re planning an eco-friendly renovation. So it’s worth taking professional advice from a renovation specialist, architect, builder or qualified independent energy assessor to find out more.
Watch your windows
When installing new windows make sure they are sized, oriented, shaded and draft-proofed appropriately. A home can lose as much as 40% of its heat through windows in winter, while in the summer months as much 87% of the heat in a home is acquired through them. So ensuring they are shaded and draft-proofed can make a huge difference to the ambient temperature of your space and therefore how much heating or cooling is needed.
Cut the need for cooling even further by installing ceiling fans in all living and sleeping spaces. It’s much more energy efficient than air conditioning. For more ideas tailored to the climate in your local area, visit Government website: http://www.yourhome.gov.au
One of the most sustainable things you can do when renovating is to think about the longevity of your design. Before committing to anything, whether it’s a kitchen cabinet, a type of flooring or a light fitting, ask yourself how you might feel about it in a few decades’ time. Choices influenced by fashion are those we are most likely to tire of, so opting for good quality, classic items are often the wisest choice.
Always choose building materials with the least environmental impact and bear in mind that up to 40% of all waste comes from construction sites. Minimise the waste from your renovation wherever you can by re-using or recycling where possible and using renewable resources (e.g wood from sustainably-managed forests) where you can.
Avoid materials such as paints, varnishes and kitchen cabinet finishes containing ‘volatile organic compounds’ (VOCs) that cause low-level toxic fumes. These can trigger (usually minor) health problems for months after installation, but are best avoided and replaced with natural alternatives.
The NSW Government’s online publication ‘Office of Environment & Heritage’ has lots more tips and ideas for renovators.
The science of appliances
If you’re shopping for new appliances, consider the size of your purchase, as well as its energy and/or water star label rating. An extra-large fridge, for example, even if it has the highest star rating, will probably still use more energy than a smaller model with fewer stars. It’s a good rule of thumb to only buy the size you need. That way you won’t be paying for a fridge full of cold air or be tempted to run your dishwasher or washing machine with half-loads, which will see you washing energy – and money – down the drain.
If you’re replacing appliances that are still in good working order, don’t be in too much of a hurry to commit them to landfill. Pass them on to a friend or relative, offer them to a not-for-profit (your local dog shelter might than you for a new washing machine, for example) or post them on Gumtree or Freecycle.
What options do I have for outdoor eco-renovations?
There’s plenty most of us can do to make our outdoor areas more sustainable. Capturing rainwater for your irrigation system is one idea (site the rainwater tank out of direct sunlight to reduce algae growth), but it’s also important to cover your pool if you have one, avoid excessive hard landscaping and to use native plants that will thrive in your area’s microclimate.
Writing in his book ‘Patio’, award-winning landscape designer Jamie Durie says there’s a growing trend towards using native plants: “More and more Australians are embracing the benefits of using native plants. Natives attract birds, have generally lower water requirements and are well suited to surviving our harsh and varied environmental conditions.”
Stretch your budget
It’s worth investigating to find out if your local government offers incentives or rebates to householders planning to make their homes more sustainable. See what’s available in your area at: http://yourenergysavings.gov.au/rebates
With a bigger budget, read the project estimate for high-end eco-renovation costs. Even with a smaller budget you can begin to make your home eco-friendlier; read basic eco-renovation estimate to find out how.
This project estimate article featured on page 94 of Issue 017 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.
If you would like to discuss eco-friendly options and ideas for your next renovation project, please use the enquiry form on this page to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your project. If you would like to provide us with more information about your project, we have a more comprehensive enquiry form on our "Get in touch" page too.
*Costs are rough estimates and are subject to change. For a fixed-quote accurate to your specific project, please consult your local Refresh Renovations specialist. All Refresh Renovations franchises are independently owned and operated.