20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact

20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact
20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact

As the Friday climate strike comes around, it’s a pivotal time to take a look at our own respective home environments and ask the question, “Is my home contributing to the problem?”

Australia produces approximately 400 kilos of waste annually, which is one of the highest waste per capita rates in the world – so chances are, you’re not the only one with a not-so-eco-friendly home. However, if the world is to reach near net-zero by 2050, it’s crucial that we look at our homes, the lifecycle of materials and how our houses are built.

While it may seem daunting to completely overhaul your home, studies have shown that even small changes can make a significant difference and save the planet tonnes of emissions per year.

Here’s a guide to help reduce your environmental impact, ranging from low-cost ideas to larger investments in sustainability:

LOW COST

 20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact
Credit: Taylor Friehl

#1 ENERGY EFFICIENT LIGHT BULBS

By using Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) you can save up to 25% - 80% less energy than regular bulbs. These light bulbs are also great because they last 2-25 times longer, meaning less cost.

#2 CREATE A COMPOST BIN

According to food-waste recovery organisation, Oz Harvest, over 5 million tonnes of food ends up in landfills every year, which is enough to fill 9,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Instead, it can be a good idea to plan out your meals to avoid waste and freeze any perishables that you don't anticipate to eat before they spoil. For food scraps, creating a compost bin is an easy and more environmentally conscious way of dealing with food waste. 

#3 REMEMBER TO RECYCLE

For the same amount of energy that it takes to produce one can from virgin materials, 20 cans can be created through recycled materials; while recycling one tonne of plastic can save 16 barrels of oil. When you consider the energy expenditure it takes to produce a disposable item, it makes a lot more sense to make a little extra effort to recycle it.

#4 USE ENVIRONMENTALLY-CONSCIOUS CLEANING PRODUCTS

Many cleaning products on the market contain harmful ingredients such as ammonia, ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, sodium hypochlorite and/or trisodium phosphate, which all emit toxic VOCs when released into the air. Today, there is a wide range of cleaning products on the market which contain all-natural ingredients and achieve the same results.

#5 BUY RECYCLED FURNITURE

Every 5 seconds a new IKEA bookshelf is purchased somewhere in the world, which seems like a shocking statistic given how many can be found in op shops or organic hard rubbish collection – in perfect condition. By purchasing and recycling furniture, you are helping to eliminate the 85% of 'hard-rubbish' furniture that ends up in the landfill.

#6 TURN OFF LIGHTS + UNPLUG ELECTRONICS

While the idea of unplugging appliances to save energy has been debunked (as it actually uses more energy to repower the appliance when you turn it on again), hand-held device chargers including smartphones, cameras and laptops will continue to extract power even when the device is fully charged. It's a good idea to regularly check your plugs the same way you would with light switches to ensure that no energy within your home is being wasted.

#7 RUN A FULL, COLD LOAD OF WASHING

Did you know that running a load on a cold wash as opposed to hot can reduce the energy expenditure by up to 80%? You can also save energy by ensuring your load is full before every cycle and handwashing items that you need immediately.

#8 OPT FOR REUSABLE LUNCH WRAP + CONTAINERS

There are so many great alternatives to cling film and takeaway coffee cups on the market right now. From beeswax lunch wrap to glass Tupperware containers and 'Keep Cups', reducing plastic and single-use food container use has just got a whole lot easier.

#9 AIR DRY CLOTHING

 20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact
Credit: U.S. EPA

According to U.S. EPA, clothes dryers use approximately 1/3 of the household energy consumption – a rate which comes as no surprise given that a dryer uses energy to heat and to spin rapidly. Line-drying your clothes not only saves energy but it also saves money and risk of clothing shrinkage.

#10 PLANT YOUR OWN HERBS

When you consider the cost and energy expense to commercially grow a parsley plant, ship it to the supermarket, and transport it home – the fuel and production costs greatly outweigh the cost and energy to grow your own. Instead, pick up a few herb plants from your local garden centre, and create a garden bed or plant them in pots on your kitchen window sill. 

#11 AVOID MICROWAVE USE

A recent study by The University of Manchester found that microwave usage across the EU emits as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars, which is equivalent to 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. 

#12 INSTALL LOW-FLOW SHOWERHEADS

Data shows that low-flow showerheads can save up to 160,000L of water daily for a household of four. 

MID-RANGE COST

 20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact
Credit: Naomi Hebert

#13 CHANGE APPLIANCES

While it may seem wasteful to purchase a new appliance while you have an older one which runs fine, however buying a more energy-efficient model will actually be more beneficial to the planet (and your bank balance) on a day to day basis. 

#14 INCREASE YOUR INSULATION

 20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact
Credit: Steele Associates

According to Energy Saving Trust, installing solid wall insulation could save two tonnes of CO2 per year. Many homes across Australia would have been fit with the minimum insulation requirement, however, Passivhaus design suggests in order to maintain better thermal performance, insulation should be installed underfloor, in walls and ceiling, and contain a higher R-value than the minimum standard. 

#15 DOUBLE GLAZE JOINERY

The same way insulation works, double and triple glazing works to keep a balanced internal temperature and avoids heat loss or influx – depending on the season. This saves on additional heating costs and energy use. 

#16 OPT FOR WATER-BASED PAINTS

Many paints contain high VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which are also found in many building materials such as flooring, benchtops, curtains, furniture and more. Opting for water-based low VOC containing paints is better for both your health and the environment. 

#17 UPGRADE YOUR TOILET

In most households, a toilet will use almost 30% of the indoor water usage. In order to reduce this significantly, the EPA suggests upgrading older toilet models to the EPA certified WaterSense model. 

WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT

 20 simple changes around the home to reduce your environmental impact
Credit: American Public Power Association

#18 SOLAR PANELS

Whether you install one solar panel or cover your entire house in solar panels and even use them as balustrades, the energy and cost savings will greatly outweigh the upfront investment cost of installing them in the long run. If you're hesitant about installing solar panels due to potentially selling your home in the near future, solar power is proven to add value to your home, the same way a swimming pool does.

"Since solar power is viewed so positively by most of the Australian public, it follows that this can be a selling point for the home. Research indicates that the more solar panels there are on the roof, the higher the value of the home – with an estimated increase of almost $6000 dollars per kilowatt of solar power. This indicates a rise of over $29,000 in the retail value of the home for a 5kW installation."

Momentum Energy

#19 RETROFITTING

Retrofitting both old and modern homes can be a great way to raise the environmental rating of your home. Consider having an environmental consultant inspect your home to look for areas which are the least energy-efficient and could require an upgrade.

These could include:

  • Replacing old single-glazed windows
  • Fill any gaps to prevent leaks and draughts
  • Replace any materials which emit high VOCs with more natural, low VOC, certified products
  • Make upgrades to appliances, water heater, air conditioning, etc.

#20 INVEST IN AN HRV SYSTEM

Heat Recovery Ventilation systems (also known as HRV) work by pumping fresh air into living areas while extracting air from kitchens and bathrooms. This ensures that the air circulation around the home is clean and fresh. It also keeps the heat in during the winter, and the heat out during the summer. 

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of urban.com.au. Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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