Invest in the future
Building at any level is a costly business, both to your wallet and the environment, and by failing to research your design and material options, these oversights will continue to take their toll on your finances and the planet for years to come.
So, if you want to save the planet, you generally have to spend more on the products that you are buying into and spend time researching what the available options are. And rest assured, something better and more efficient will always be just around the corner to make you feel like you invested too early.
Use sustainable and recycled materials
It’s not rocket science and yet still we see piles of plastic choking up the oceans and deforestation occurring at unsustainable rates. The time has come to put your money where your morals are and to use the sustainable materials that are widely available on the market.
For example, we at Westbury are passionate advocates of modified timber, Accoya. Accoya is a product which is created from fast growing and managed forests containing FSC® or PEFC™ certified trees and is a super-strength wood which is more durable and stable than its less sustainable hardwood counterparts.
We are also seeing an increasing use of reclaimed products such as recycled plastic and glass, reclaimed lumber alongside the use of more natural products such as linoleum, bamboo, cob, straw and cork.
Passive solar design
Solar panels might be old news, but some people still don’t take into consideration the passive solar benefits that can be gained from considering the orientation of a house, and its subsequent ability to harness the heat and light from the sun.
Buildings which benefit from passive solar design in the UK are by and large south facing, with windows placed predominantly on the south side of a building. In order to retain the solar gain from the south side, windows on this aspect should be high specification and thermally efficient. In the summer this will of course need to be managed from a cooling point of view to prevent the need for air conditioning.
Solar reflective glazing can help by reflecting solar radiation back into the atmosphere, reducing the proportion of solar radiation directly transmitted through the glass and minimising the absorption of solar radiation through the glass. Features such as extended eaves and blinds, and even strategic planting in the garden to create shady areas, can also reduce solar gain in the hotter months of the year.
Insulation, insulation, insulation
Proper insulation and attention to air leakages can substantially improve your home’s eco rating and reduce the costs (both financially and environmentally) associated with heating or cooling your property.
Addressing the U-values of your roof, floors, walls and windows and doors is the key to achieving effective insulation and is a major feature of the passivhaus concept. U-values are the measurement of a material’s efficiency which ensures it’s keeping your heating in or the sun’s heat out. The lower the U-value, the more efficient your building material is.
In 2018 Part L building regulations for replacement products stipulate a whole unit value maximum of 1.6 or lower for windows and 1.8 for doors. All windows complying with building regulations will perform to a level that prevents heat loss and lowers the environmental impact. Passivhaus standards set out that U-values should be no higher than 0.15W/m2 for the walls, roof and floors and 0.80W/m2 for an individual window and 0.85W/m2 for windows fully installed.
Great design and product understanding
Well-designed products can also make a critical difference to environmentalism and won’t necessarily be flagged up for their environmental credentials alone, so make sure you are aware of what’s available in the marketplace. For example, at Westbury we design our timber frames and sashes with deep inside-to-outside profiles to improve their thermal performance through the wood components. This is a technique that was mastered in Scandinavia many years ago to help them keep the cold weather out. They had a standard frame depth of 115mm – which is the same as Westbury uses today. Westbury sashes are 68mm deep and therefore can incorporate a much thicker and wider choice of energy efficient glass. This gives our windows excellent whole product U-values, compared to some products which are advertised for their centre pane U-value (which is usually better than the whole product-value), because all windows experience more heat loss around the edges.
Energy efficiency and sustainable energy sourcing
Energy efficient appliances with an A+++ rating are of course an easy way to ensure that the energy you do use is not being wasted. Around 20% of the electricity used in the average UK home is accounted for by fridges and freezers alone, so it’s worth investing in energy efficient white goods to ensure that the environment and your finances aren’t taking an unnecessary hammering. In terms of lighting, this means opting for LED and CFL products, which cost more but use a fraction of the energy of traditional bulbs and last considerably longer too.
Heating accounts for 45% of UK energy use (according to Government figures), and is an area in which most of us need to get a bit smarter. A programmable thermostat is therefore a highly effective way to ensure your house is being heated when you want it to be, and this has been advanced further through the use of smart technology which allows users to monitor and control temperature levels remotely. Do note however that partners who ‘feel the cold’ are resisting this feature widely, so you may need to ensure this equipment is tamper-proof!
Solar energy is clean and renewable and now widely available thanks to the popularity of the government’s Feed-In Tariff Scheme which increased uptake and therefore supply of solar panels in the UK. Indeed, solar panels prices have steadily decreased over the last couple of years, with average domestic solar panels costing around £6,000, with the capacity to provide a system output of kWh, producing 3,400 kWh per year (enough energy to power a Tesla Model S car for 12,000 miles!).
With the environment agency warning that rivers and wildlife are being damaged by the overuse of water in UK homes, the true Greenies among you will be shoring up for the water supply shortages that are subsequently being forecast for our growing population. You can gain inspiration on how domestic water conservation systems work in practice from places such as the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, which provides education around practical solutions for sustainability and was a project worked on by our very own Green consultant, Daniel Birks, who was instrumental in the initial design and building of the centre.
- One easy way to achieve home water conservation is through rainwater harvesting systems, that collect rainwater from roofs and then store it in a tank. The water can then be reused for toilets and gardening. Water butts are a highly popular and accessible starting point, but this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what households can do to maximise their water efficiency.
- Grey water recycling is also another way to harness the water that you have already used in your house. It is cleaned up through a system which filters, disinfects the water and then can redistribute it domestically for reuse. Grey water recycling systems can reduce household water consumption by 50%.
- Composting toilets – the household addition that makes going to the loo an act of environmental altruism, these systems treat human excrement through biological processes, turning our unwanted waste into compost that can be used to fertilise the roses.
- Low flow water systems – we all love a power shower but the reality is that by reducing the flow of water in your taps and showerheads, then you can easily reduce your impact on the water cycle.
- Tankless water heaters eliminate the need for a hot water tank, since these water heaters only heat the water that is needed by passing it through an electric coil, which significantly reduces energy costs and the space in your house needed to store hot water.
Ground source heat pumps
Ground source heat pumps extract heat from deep underground to heat your water in the winter and then in the summer heat can be extracted from the air and moved back into the earth through a loop system to aid with cooling.
In short, it’s all about good design and good research. Greater understanding of how a house and its occupants interact with the immediate environment is key to ensuring that a home has a symbiotic relationship with its surroundings, and for those of us who are lucky enough to design a building from the ground up, there really is no excuse to not weave environmentalism into every aspect of our designs.