There are lots of different stereotypical words that get flung around when you mention sustainability, regardless of whether or not you are discussing houses. So sustainability for me might be very different for sustainability for you. And why is sustainability so important in houses?
From the bush fires in Australia to flooding across the UK. Climate change has been linked to the weather extremes being across the world.
But did you know that housing contributes for 27% of the total UK emissions of greenhouse gases (Rajat Gupta, 2011)?
That’s a huge proportion of greenhouse gases that are actually coming from us living in our homes.
40% of energy consumption in Europe is building related.
The design of a building can have a big impact on how it works sustainably, and it’s impact on the planet as a result.
The majority of our energy use / loss in buildings is via poor insulation and poor air tightness. We pay to heat our homes, and the heat disappears out through the wall, roof, windows, gaps as well as letting the cold outside air in. Which you pay more to heat back up. You also feel the impact physically – or your thermal comfort. That feeling when the heating’s on and you still feel like you’re sat in a draft. The thermostat says you’re not cold, but you feel you are. Improving the fabric of the building first – the insulation levels, the windows can make a huge difference to your home.
Utilising the sun can also make a big impact to a home. A design that maximises sun light and heat can help to reduce your heating and lighting costs.
There are a lot of natural, locally available building materials that could be used in construction. Sheep’s wool for example – have a look at the pictures of Cranbrook School in the ‘Projects’ section at the top of the page where we used sheep’s wool on the ceiling. This was for acoustic as well as thermal insulation, and leaving it exposed meant there wasn’t a need to pay to acoustically treat a plasterboard finish. A cost and material saving. So maybe an exposed sheep’s wool ceiling isn’t going to be your first choice for your home. But why not for your loft? We used Thermafleece’s insulation. https://www.thermafleece.com/
You can also use or buy recycled materials rather than buying new, from a salvage yard for example. The impact of shipping materials half way around the world can have a big impact on its eco-credentials.
Renewable energy sources (like solar power) really should be the last thing to consider. They’re expensive and you don’t really benefit from the solar panels being on your roof when you are sat in your living room. If you’ve got a building that has a low energy demand through good daylighting design and insulation to reduce the need for heating, the number of solar panels you may need to power your home is reduced. Solar hot water panels can be an option for people with hot water tanks – using the suns energy to heat the water so the emersion doesn’t need to work as hard, if at all.
So sustainability doesn’t just mean installing a smart meter in our homes to make a smart grid. And it doesn’t just mean sticking solar panels on the roof. A sustainable home means a home that works for you. That lasts. There is no right or wrong approach to your house and increasing its sustainable credentials. Your budget may restrict all you can do to improving your loft insulation and replacing that drafty window that doesn’t shut properly. But that makes it more sustainable than the next house with leaky windows and no loft insulation down the road, reducing your homes impact on the planet and making it a more comfortable place for you to live in.