How to Eco Renovate Your Home

Renovating is a great time to 'eco check' your house. We've compiled a list of products that can make your home more efficient and healthier for you and the environment.

pool with solar panels
ARTICLE Joanna Mathers

Having a comfortable, clean and cosy place to call home is one of the keys to health and happiness. But sadly, many of the homes found in New Zealand are cold, draughty and in some cases harmful. They may contain appliances that use a lot of electricity, or flooring and paint that produce allergic reactions. The good news is that there are many healthy, energy efficient and environmentally friendly alternatives on the market when it comes to choosing products for your home.

Consider natural insulation

It’s estimated that up to half of New Zealand’s homes aren’t properly insulated. A poorly insulated house will be draughty and cold, and can lead to a range of health issues especially in winter. Poor insulation also equals huge power bills. Energywise, a consumer programme run by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), offers subsidies for home insulation of up to 33 per cent. Community service card holders, or landlords whose tenants have a community services card, may be entitled to a subsidy of up to a 60 per cent. Ceiling and underfloor insulation is the most effective, with wool, recycled wool, and wool polyester being the most eco-friendly insulation options. See Eco-Insulation for more details.

Install sufficient heating

Installing a heating system in an insulated home will create a comfortable and healthy living environment year round. A heat pump is one of the options, and there are a number of things to take into consideration when buying one. Make sure the heat pump is from a reputable supplier, and choose a well-respected brand. The size of the heat pump is very important to ensure that you run the unit efficiently and don’t waste energy. Measure up the space you want to heat and let the supplier recommend the best model. You should take heed of the energy rating – these are displayed on a sticker as an arch of stars. EECA also gives Energy Stars (also displayed as a sticker) to the most energy efficient heat pumps.

Wool carpets are a natural, biodegradable and long lasting choice.

Lay eco flooring

Many of the flooring products in our homes can have a harmful effect on the environment and our health. Carpet manufacturing uses toxic products and unsustainable manufacturing techniques, and carpets often contain volatile compounds (VOCs), chemicals used in the creation of products that evaporate into the air and can be harmful to human health and the environment. However, there are many eco-friendly flooring alternatives. New Zealand wool carpets are good, as wool is long lasting, natural and biodegradable. Look for a low-VOC range carpet (Feltex manufactures these). Wool is also excellent for preventing heat loss through the floor. Wood is another good option, if it comes from sustainable sources. Greenpeace has a Good Wood Guide that lists wood that comes from sustainable sources. There is also a range of eco-friendly, chemical-free wooden floor finishes on the market, see Biopaints.

Install solar water heating

Hot water accounts for around 47 per cent of our yearly electricity bill, so it pays to choose the most energy efficient products. Solar water heating panels are a good option. Installed on the roof, modern solar water panels can warm water even on cloudy days. NZ Solar and Rheem both provide solar alternatives to electrical heating. Efficient hot water cylinders such as Aquafire’s hot water heat pumps, which use warm air to generate heat, are another cost-cutting, sustainable option.

Use water based paints

Many paints are packed with chemicals that can trigger allergies, headaches and nausea. Fortunately, there are a number of paints they are less toxic and smelly. Resene has a range of low-VOC, low allergen paints that are created from waterborne enamels rather than solvents. Their Zylone paint range is low odour – ideal for those who find paint smell irritating. BioPaints is a New Zealand company that creates paints from natural ingredients such as chalk, china and plant oils, available in a wide range of colours. Porters Paints also have a wide range of great paints, all of which are water based.

Choose energy efficient appliances

If you’ve bought an appliance lately it’s likely it would have had an energy rating sticker attached. These stickers indicate the energy rating of appliances and whiteware such as fridges, heaters, ovens, dishwashers and more. The more stars that are highlighted on the sticker the more energy efficient the appliance. The top performing appliances will feature an energy star mark. By choosing an energy efficient appliance you will help reduce your electricity costs as well as your carbon footprint.

A rainwater storage tank is a cost-effective way to capture rainwater for the garden.

Create edible gardens

Be it a veggie plot or tomatoes in a container, planting an edible garden can be achievable no matter how large or small your garden, see Edible Gardens for ideas. You will know exactly what went into your food, and can keep your produce completely free of chemicals. When buying extra fruit and veg, consider getting things that are in season and locally grown. The most economical and environmentally friendly way to water your garden is to harvest rainwater. At Rainline you’ll find water tanks for rural and urban applications. Finally, a compost bin or worm farm should not be missing in your garden. They are great for creating beautiful soil that will keep your garden beds in top condition – and you can be happy knowing you’re doing your bit for the planet.

Choose low cost lighting

CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp bulbs) are the most common energy efficient bulbs available. They use one fifth of the power that traditional incandescent lamps use, and last far longer. To gain the maximum benefit from using CFL bulbs, you will need to use them in all your light fittings. Good CFL bulbs start at around $6, with bulbs suitable for dimmers being around $20. LED lights are also very energy efficient and are becoming more and more popular. They are available from stores such as Lighting Plus. LEDs are long lasting, emit little heat, and their price has recently dropped from just under $30 to just under $20 for a bulb.

Install water filters

Daily intake of water is essential for good health, and water filters ensure you get the cleanest possible drop. There are a number of different water filters available, with different levels of contamination removal. From water filter jugs to fully integrated systems that provide filtered water from the kitchen tap, there is an option for every budget. Water filters range in price from $30 for a basic filter jug to over $1,500 for filters that are installed outdoors and provide water to the entire house.

Decorate with sustainable accessories

Home decorating can be a huge amount of fun, especially if you know what you are using is giving something back to the community. Instead of purchasing your bits and bobs from big stores, scour local op shops, antiques stores and design stores that stock New Zealand made products. Many companies offer organic fabrics for curtains, cushions et cetera, for example, see Bolt of Cloth. Or try your hands at  ‘upcycling’ – repurposing old items as furniture and decorative pieces. This trend has gained a huge following over the past few years. Ideas range from using shipping crates as couches or bookcases through to creating lamps from old jars – the options are endless. With a little imagination you can create a distinctive look in your home that you know is completely original.

You may also be interested in Green and Sustainable Home Renovations.

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This column by Joanna Mathers featured on page 050 in Issue 007 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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