Futureproof your home using sustainable design

A bench made from scrap wood at the recent EDIT design convention. PHOTOS: Christine Roberts

A recent visit to EDIT, the expo for design, innovation and technology got me thinking more seriously about design and the contribution it can make for our environment.

There is a huge movement towards sustainable design and housing, with a move towards designing and building homes that are affordable and also energy efficient. A number of large companies have begun designing “kit homes” that can be made inexpensively and assembled easily in an attempt to solve housing issues in cities and also remote communities.

A shed the writer built from reclaimed materials.

With all of this in mind, let’s turn around and see what we can do in our own homes to help lessen the environmental impact that renovations and construction can have. Whether building new, adding on or just doing a smaller renovation, all of us can play a role in this.

The choices we make in materials and building techniques can go a long way to making our homes more energy efficient and also doing less harm on the earth. Choosing materials that are sustainable, employing building and renovation techniques that are safe and non-toxic, and reusing or recycling building materials are all smart practices.

To start, choose quality materials that last and will not need to be replaced. Using fewer materials or those made with recycled or sustainably-sourced products will lessen your environmental footprint.

Many of these types of materials are available, but are often harder to find and more expensive to purchase. With increased demand from consumers this will change. An initial higher cost in construction will also result in a lower cost to run your home, while being better for the planet.

A table the writer made from an old dining room table top and reclaimed metal.

Just some of the future “green” building materials we can start researching and demanding to use include:

  • Cellulos insulation: This is a great choice since it’s made from a high concentration of recycled materials and has low off gassing potential.
  • Wool bricks: Invented in Britain, these are made using wool and a polymer found in seaweed! These are stronger and more resistant to wet climates.
  • Solar roof tiles: These insulate and protect while integrating into the building to generate power.
  • Sustainable concrete: Standard concrete is used in virtually all construction and is responsible for 7-10 per cent of global emissions. By adding recycled materials into the mix this can be drastically reduced while using materials that would otherwise go to waste.
  • Blown in recycled paper insulation: Unlike foam, this material has virtually no associations with health issues and creates an airtight seal. Using insulation that is made from other recycled materials is also becoming more popular – there is even one that is made from salvaged denim.
  • Triple glazed windows: Double glazed windows are now standard and it’s easy to see the difference between these and the old single paned windows. Triple glazed do an even better job and may just become the new standard.

Consider using some recycled or salvaged materials on your next project.

Salvaged lumber, recycled metal building supplies or any reclaimed materials can add to the greening of your reno. Head to salvage shops, flea markets, or the Habitat for Humanity Restore for used materials – creating less demand for new products is part of the solution.

The Lululemon wall at Yorkdale, done by Brothers Dressler, is an example of sustainable and creative design.

Wood is a sustainable material if sourced responsibly. Using only materials from sustainable sources and buying materials that are local to cut down on shipping costs is a smart idea.

When choosing renovation products, choose those with little or minimal off gassing, dangerous chemicals or ones made with wasteful or chemical processes.

If you are installing new floors in a reno/build, look into radiant heating. Radiant heat is clean and safe as well as one of the most efficient since the heat rises from the floor and warms the whole room effectively and uniformly. Studies have shown if your floors are warm the room temperature can actually be kept a few degrees lower without sacrificing comfort. Air quality is also great with radiant heat as it doesn’t involve trapping and redistributing dust and irritants like forced air does.

If part of your renovation or build includes a new roof, consider designing and implementing a green or living roof. Green roofs help to insulate the home, and reduce water pollution from urban runoff (think of the rising lake levels this spring and how it could be reduced if we all had green roofs). When looking at landscaping, minimizing the amount of paved/hard surfaces in your yard to allow for drainage and absorption will also make a difference.

Even if you aren’t doing a reno or build, there are things you can do in your home more green. Heading into winter, think of weather proofing your whole house. Adding insulation, patching holes, gaps or retrofitting windows with newer energy efficient ones, and purchasing new appliances that are energy efficient will not only lower your environmental impact but will lower your energy use which can save you money.

Try making your home as environmentally sound as you can and get inspired to carry this into all aspects of your lifestyle too.

Christine Roberts is an interior designer, stylist, avid vintage collector, and co-founder of the Leslieville Flea. She makes furniture and home accessories of reclaimed materials. Connect with her at www.shes-crafty.ca and www.leslievilleflea.com.


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