ARTICLE Krista Ferguson, PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of HomeStar
By considering your family’s health and wellbeing when you renovate your home, you’ll not only be enhancing your home’s environmental performance, you’ll also be investing in the future.
When you begin any renovation, it can seem like a mammoth task. However, renovating is a journey of a thousand steps, and like most big projects, it’s impossible to do everything you want to do, in a single day. So your renovation will be completed in stages, perhaps starting with the side room, before moving on into the kitchen. As you progress throughout your home, at some point you’ll begin to consider how your renovations are going to perform in terms of their environmental impact.
Poorly performing homes not only cost more to run, they are less comfortable to live in and over time they are responsible for increased spending in healthcare and other sectors.
So it’s worth considering how well your home is going to perform when you’ve completed the renovation, in addition to how well it will contribute to your family’s overall warmth, comfort and health.
When it comes to improving environmental performance, homeowners sometimes think this refers only to energy consumption: sort out your insulation, install some energy-efficient light bulbs and a low energy heat pump, and you’re done. However, there are many other elements that you need to consider. For example how does your home perform in terms of water usage? Can you harvest rain water? Can you install a greywater recycling system? How does your home manage its storm water run-off?
What about the surrounding ecology? Are there any native plants? Is there a vegetable garden and fruit trees? Does your home provide easy access and solutions to minimise waste? And how can you minimise the waste materials generated throughout the renovation process?
All these elements contribute to the overall environmental impact of a home and are included in a Homestar™ assessment. However, considering everything at once is daunting, so it’s worth keeping in mind is that improving home performance is a marathon, not a sprint.
Some home environmental performance improvements may involve simple actions that require little or no cost, while others may need an investment that will pay off through lower running costs or other benefits. For example, turning off your underused second fridge/freezer in the basement costs nothing and generates savings, whereas refitting your house with efficient heating rather than un-flued gas heating might come with a higher price tag, yet it’s a good investment for your personal health and your home’s moisture control. An un-flued gas heater pumps up to 1.5 litres of moisture per hour into the air that you breathe within your home.
Another consideration is how to vent moisture from your home. This is an important way to protect the health of your family, particularly if anyone has asthma or other breathing related health issues. Extractor fans are a feature of most new builds and can be incorporated into older structures with little difficulty. The fans should be vented to the outside, and installed above the hob in the kitchen as well as in every bathroom.
Another area of home performance that many people miss out is water management. We need to consider the cost, financially and environmentally, of using clean, healthy water in the home.
A smart and simple way to implement change is to begin by measuring your tap flow with a bucket and a stopwatch. If it flows more than 6 litres per minute, you’re wasting water. If so, the cost-effective next step is to install flow restrictors to limit kitchen and bathroom tap flow rates to 4.5 litres per minute or less. In addition, changing your shower head to a more water efficient model (less than 9 litres per minute), is a straight-forward solution to immediately improve the performance of your home.
Many homes currently have showerheads that are incredibly inefficient when we consider the amount of water we actually need to be using. When renovating, choose fixtures (baths, basins, etc) that have overflow outlets, to save you time and money in the long run. The great news is that most manufacturers now supply fittings that aerate the flow. This means that less water is used but you still get a great shower. Just look for the Water Efficiency Label (WEL) and chose fittings with the highest number of stars.
A rainwater tank or rain barrel is another great initiative that’s easy and relatively cheap to install. Collecting fresh water from the roof is something every homeowner should consider as it helps to harvest this precious resource and greatly increases your disaster resilience. If you’re doing a renovation, consider having rainwater plumbed into the toilet or laundry.
Insulation, is another area that people tend to forget when considering family health. Homestar recommends the minimum coverage of insulation in ceiling, walls and under the floor to create a ‘thermal envelope’ that retains warmth. If you’re in doubt about how your home is performing in this area, contact a local Energywise WUNZ service provider to get a free quote for an insulation top-up. You may even be eligible for a government grant.
Lighting is a less obvious area for improving home performance. Did you know that downlights can ‘break’ your insulation and reduce its effectiveness? It’s recommended instead that you use pendant style lighting or light fittings that are flush with the ceiling. Downlights make holes in the ceiling which add heat from the roof into the living space during the summer and accelerate heat loss into the cold roof space during winter.
Waste management is another area where we can all easily become involved by thoughtfully disposing of rubbish and using composting bins. Homestar also values careful waste disposal during the renovation or building process – a trained Homestar professional can help guide you through this aspect.
Renovating with environmental sustainability and efficiency in mind ultimately increases the value of your home. Studies have shown that for every extra sustainable star rating, property values showed an average increase of three and a half percent. It’s a potential that the real estate industry is backing; they helped to launch the first Homestar certified homes in July 2011.
Ultimately, the plan is for Homestar to become part of the lexicon for all homebuyers and sellers. It’s a tool which shows clear, tangible benefits, both in terms of personal health and ongoing comfort, and house valuation, while also highlighting achievable steps to work towards. The results will provide benefits for all.
Homestar provides a common language and framework that people can relate to in order to better understand how to improve our homes with sustainability in mind.
Homestar have industry professionals who can guide you through renovation planning, keeping sustainability in mind.
You might be interested in reading: How important is sustainable design in the home?
This article by Krista Ferguson featured in Issue 002 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.