Our capacity to make changes towards being more sustainable at home varies greatly. There are financial, physical, cultural and other factors that influence our decisions. This is why it’s important to remember that we can’t always make the most sustainable choice but when we can, there are certain decisions that have a greater impact on sustainability, climate change and the environment.
Sustainable at Home
The evidence is unequivocal, human actions have warmed and are continuing to warm our planet. This warming is driven by our use of fossil fuels and the effect is cumulative. This means the impacts from past emissions are irreversible and all we can do is limit future emissions and further impacts.
Every action matters, every avoided emission matters, every degree of warming matters.
Depending on your personal circumstances, we recommend the following ways to be more sustainable at home. The most impactful are those that reduce our use of fossil fuels but we also need to look at ways we can reduce consumption, waste and pollution as well as taking actions to address the biodiversity crisis and growing inequality.
The following list contains examples of sustainable actions, eco-friendly practices and tips that can help us create positive change.
1. Switch to Renewable Energy
Ending our use of fossil fuels is the most important action we can take to prevent further warming. In the home, this means switching to renewable energy sources.
The easiest way to do this is to contact your current energy provider and switch to a renewable option. This generally means energy from wind or solar but may include hydropower depending on what is available in your location.
A better option is to switch to an energy provider that only uses renewable energy. This way you aren’t spending your money with a company that profits from coal or gas production. Unfortunately, this option isn’t available everywhere but if it’s available and if you can afford it, then this is an important step towards sustainability.
Alternatively, you can install solar panels and, if possible, batteries to supply your own renewable energy. Again, this isn’t available to everyone, particularly if you don’t own your own home or if you live in an apartment. Solar panels can be an affordable option when you look at the cost vs the long-term savings from reduced energy costs. Also, look into government rebates and no-interest loans that are sometimes available as an incentive for installing solar panels in your home.
However, before installing solar panels, it’s important to electrify your home and implement energy conservation and energy efficiency measures. This will allow an efficient allocation of resources by ensuring the system you install has the correct capacity for your needs.
2. Electrify Everything
By electrifying everything in your home, you’ll end your use of fossil fuels including gas and oil. Look at replacing your gas stovetop with an electric or induction appliance and install heat pumps for hot water as well as to warm and cool your home. Even if you currently get your electricity from non-renewable sources, this is the first important step towards getting away from fossil fuels. Then when you can, switch to a renewable energy provider or install solar panels on your home.
3. Implement Energy Conservation Measures
Using less energy in the home means lower energy bills and reduced reliance on fossil fuels.
There are several measures you can take to reduce energy use including the following:
- Insulate your home.
- Install double or triple glazing in your windows.
- Eliminate ‘leaks’ from your home by filling gaps where air can escape, particularly around doors and windows.
- Install block-out blinds or shade cloth in front of windows.
- Plant deciduous trees in front of west-facing windows.
- Install a green roof and walls.
- Turn off appliances that aren’t in use.
- Turn off lights when you exit a room.
- Install smart metres and lighting that automates energy use.
4. Invest in Energy-Efficient Appliances
It’s not an efficient use of resources to go out and replace all your appliances with energy-efficient appliances. It’s better to keep and repair what you have unless they are extremely inefficient. However, once you do need to replace or buy new, purchase the most energy-efficient products you can afford. This can make a huge difference to your energy use, particularly over the long term.
Other energy-efficient measures include:
- Replacing regular light bulbs with LED lights.
- Buying ‘smart’ appliances.
- Installing smart metres to track your energy use.
5. Choose Sustainable Building and Decorating Materials
When building or retrofitting your home, consider the sustainability of the materials you’re using. For example, the production of concrete produces large amounts of methane emissions. You can use timber as an alternative in many building situations and it’s worth pursuing this where possible.
Additional sustainable building options:
- Eco-friendly paint.
- Sustainably sourced timber flooring.
- Avoid using synthetic (plastic) fibres in carpets, blinds and curtains.
- Use recycled and recyclable materials where possible.
- If building a new house, consider building a passive house.
- Buy the best quality materials you can afford to avoid having to replace items.
- Keep in mind that smaller houses require fewer resources to build and less energy to heat and cool.
6. Eliminate or Reduce Our Use of Plastic
99% of plastic production is derived from fossil fuels and is a major contributor to global warming. Not only that but we’re all aware of the environmental damage caused by plastics in the environment. Every time we reduce our use of plastic we are avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.
7. Reduce and Reuse Water
Sustainable water requires more than just water-saving strategies like turning off the tap while brushing our teeth and installing water-saving showerheads. We can harvest rainwater to use in our gardens and greywater from showers, cooking and washing can be reused. Monitoring your water use can help you learn where you’re using most of your water and can help you to detect water leaks. Water can be saved in the garden by planting drought-resistant plants and using thick layers of mulch to reduce evaporation. Lastly, remember to research the water efficiency of appliances before you make a new purchase.
8. Limit Unnecessary Consumption
Globally, household consumption is responsible for approximately 72% of greenhouse gas emissions with about 19% of this related to the operation and maintenance of residences. Some of this consumption is non-essential and we can reduce this by being thoughtful about what we purchase and the companies we purchase from. Reducing our non-essential consumption not only helps to mitigate climate change but can save us money.
9. Vote for Change
While the actions of individuals can make a difference, what we really need is for governments to create a policy environment that compels businesses to be sustainable and reduce emissions in all areas. We can only achieve the transformative change that is needed by voting for progressive candidates who are focused on climate change policies that are in line with the Paris Agreement.
These examples are focused on creating a more sustainable home but for a broader list on how we can lead a sustainable life, read our complete guide to sustainable living. This guide covers all aspects of our lives and not just actions we can take around the house.